At a time when the United States is trying to rally North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies behind its South Asian strategy, which includes reinforcing military presence in Afghanistan with thousands of extra international, mainly US, troops, participants at the International Consultation on Peace, Security and Development in South Asia have called "for the withdrawal of US-led international combat troops from Afghanistan".
The consultation took place in Bangalore, India, from 30 March to 2 April 2009.
Participants also appealed "to the international community to ensure that the resultant power vacuum may be filled by a UN-sponsored peacekeeping force with Asian forces as major players". This strategy, the statement says, "will help the country's transition towards stability".
"The overwhelming presence and reliance on 52,000-strong foreign forces in Afghanistan has created more animosity among the local people as well as in neighbouring Pakistan. This situation creates an atmosphere ripe for extremist groups to exploit the religious sentiments of ordinary people and involve them in committing more violence," the statement says.
Analyzing what they see as "one of the most volatile regions of the world," participants at the consultation stated that "South Asia has become a hotbed of the war on terror and a victim of the strategic interests of major power blocs keeping the region in constant turmoil and uncertainty".
With the "US-led war on terror" being an overall defining framework for the region's conflicts, "resentments against foreign forces" are "growing among various sectors in society, especially as they feel that peace and security in South Asia are today defined in terms of American [US] strategic interests and objectives".
The consultation condemned "all forms of terrorism both by state and non-state actors in the South Asia region". It also expressed "concern over the emerging religious extremism and fundamentalism in all South Asian countries". Among the "silver linings which provide hope," the consultation's statement mentions a number of "democratic transitions and electoral processes," like those that have taken place recently in Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal.
The statement of the International Consultation on Peace, Security and Development in South Asia can be found here: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=6743