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KABUL: Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (centre), Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi join hands after a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in fighting terrorism was signed on Saturday.—Reuters
KABUL: Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (centre), Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi join hands after a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in fighting terrorism was signed on Saturday.—Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, China and Afghanistan on Saturday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for intensification of their counterterrorism cooperation.

The MoU was signed on the occasion of the second trilateral foreign ministers’ dialogue in Kabul which, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani said, looked at: “build(ing) political trust in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations; cooperation on counterterrorism; peace efforts and regional connectivity”.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani witnessed the signing of the MoU.

All three foreign ministers during their discussions at the meeting, according to a communiqué issued at the end, expressed determination to fight and eliminate terrorism “in all its forms and manifestations, and without any distinction”.

There was consensus that participating countries would not allow their territories to be used by terrorists against any other country.

Foreign ministers of three countries attend second meeting to discuss issues related with Afghanistan

Pakistan and Afghanistan have in the past signed a number of accords for cooperation against terrorism with ‘Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS)’ preceding the latest trilateral arrangement, but none has actually been able to deliver due to deep-rooted mutual mistrust. It is the first time that Chinese have become part of a Pak-Afghan arrangement for countering terrorism, although they have in the past brokered a crisis management mechanism between the two countries.

Speaking at the trilateral meeting, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said improved border coordination would benefit both Pakistan and Afghanistan. He underscored the importance of increasing security cooperation and intelligence sharing.

Although the details of the latest MoU were not made public, the communiqué said there was agreement on augmenting logistical capabilities for fighting terrorism, including financing, recruitment and training; strengthening cooperation for counter-terrorism capacity building; denying terrorists use of internet; joint steps for deradicalisation; and collaboration to break the nexus between drug trade and terror financing.

It was further decided that the MoU would be implemented through various mechanisms of the trilateral process, including the trilateral Vice-Ministerial Strategic Dialogue, Vice-Ministerial Consultation on Counter-Terrorism and Security and Director Generals’ Practical Cooperation.

A Pakistani diplomatic source had ahead of the Kabul meeting told journalists in Islamabad on Friday that Pakistani and Chinese foreign ministers would during the talks raise with Afghanistan the issue of alleged support of Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies in the attack on Chinese consulate in Karachi. It was not clear if the matter was raised or not and what was the Afghan side’s response.

At the MoU signing ceremony, Mr Qureshi said Pakistan’s position on terrorism was very clear as it unequivocally denounced it. He said the exchange of information and sharing of arrangements under this trilateral arrangement would be helpful.

Later speaking at a joint press conference with his Chinese and Afghan counterparts after the trilateral meeting, he said “accusing each other would not help anyone of us. … We should finish our mutual mistrust. Defeating terrorism is our combined responsibility.”

He said confidence building could be achieved by talking to each other.

Afghan Foreign Minister Rabbani said the meeting emphasised security, ending violence, and implementation of Afghanistan-Pakistan action plan.

He said Pakistan had always talked of supporting Afghanistan and the time had come to take practical steps.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China supported all efforts for ending the war and conflict and restoring peace in Afghanistan.

He hoped that the trilateral mechanism would facilitate improvement of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and advance cooperation in fighting terrorism so as to promote regional security, stability and development.

In addition to the MoU on counter-terrorism, the three sides also agreed to support Afghan reconciliation and cooperate for development and connectivity.

The three sides urged the Afghan Taliban to join the peace process at an early date and called on all parties to the conflict to end violence and loss of innocent lives in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Qureshi recalled that Pakistan had always supported negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict and the world powers had now begun to agree with that position.

On the development side, the communiqué said China offered to build immigration reception centres and drinking water supply schemes on both sides of the Ghulam Khan Khel border crossing point, and to explore possibilities of constructing cold storages in Chaman and Spin Boldak.

China, it further noted, supported enhanced coordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan on major energy and connectivity projects, including the construction of Quetta-Kandahar railway and Kabul-Peshawar motorway and railway.

Sideline meetings

On the sidelines of the meeting, Foreign Minister met Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Foreign Minister Rabbani.

In their bilateral meeting, Mr Qureshi and Mr Rabbani discussed issues pertaining to mutual trust and reconciliation, development cooperation and connectivity and security cooperation and counter-terrorism, Afghan foreign ministry said. Additionally the two leaders discussed Pakistani visas for Afghan nationals and transfer of Pakistanis detained in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani delegation, Afghan foreign ministry said, assured Mr Rabbani that new facilities would be constructed for this purpose, which would help in issuance of visas on a larger scale in the near future.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2018