TEHRAN: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi being welcomed by his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on Monday.—APP
TEHRAN: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi being welcomed by his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on Monday.—APP

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday spoke to Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani while Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi embarked on a four-nation tour aimed at taking regional countries on board about Pakistan’s fresh push to jumpstart the Afghan reconciliation process.

“Two days, four countries. We’re not slowing down as the year ends,” Mr Qureshi tweeted as he began his tour to Afghanistan, Iran, China and Russia. Underscoring the importance of his trip, he said: “A collective outlook is essential for progress.”

Pakistan last week facilitated a meeting between the United States and the Taliban in Abu Dhabi in a bid to pave the way for reviving the peace process that has remained stalled since 2015 when it broke down due to a news leak that insurgency’s leader Mullah Omar had long been dead.

The complicated Pak-US ties had been particularly tense since President Trump last year announced his Afghanistan and South Asia strategy in which Islamabad was accused of not acting against terrorist safe havens. During the course of its bad patch in ties with the US, Pakistan increased its interactions with China, Iran, and Russia for Afghan peace.

FM Qureshi holds talks with officials in Kabul, Tehran

A trilateral — Pakistan, China and Afghanistan — forum held its second ministerial meeting in Kabul on Dec 15, whereas Moscow had last month hosted a meeting involving regional players, Taliban and Afghan High Peace Council.

Now that President Trump in a tactical shift sought support from Pakistan and the latter has happily accepted to help, Mr Qureshi’s visit is meant to reassure the regional partners that Pakistan was not ditching them on the Afghan reconciliation issue.

PM Khan’s conversation with the Qatari emir was also in this connection, a source said, adding that the two leaders also spoke about bilateral matters.

Qatar had been hosting the Taliban’s political office since 2013, but Pakistan-backed talks between US and Taliban were held in the UAE capital. This apparently was done to accommodate Saudi Arabia and UAE in the process. Diplomatic observers say the move did not go well with the Qatari leadership.

Mr Khan was to visit Doha, but now Mr Qureshi would be going there on Dec 30 (Sunday) to meet the premier’s Qatari counterpart.

FM arrives in Kabul

Meanwhile, on the first leg of the trip, Mr Qureshi arrived in Kabul on Monday where he held meetings with President Ashraf Ghani and Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani.

This was Mr Qureshi’s second visit to Kabul in 10 days and third since his appointment as foreign minister in August. He last visited Kabul on Dec 15 for attending the trilateral ministerial meeting with his Chinese and Afghan counterparts.

Mr Qureshi tweeted: “I’ve had productive meetings with the Afghan leadership this morning.”

According to Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal, during the meeting, both sides agreed to continue the peace process and discussed issues of mutual interest, progress on Afghan peace and reconciliation process as well as bilateral trade. He was accompanied by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua.

While apprising the Afghan leadership on Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue, the foreign minister stressed the need for greater synergy among regional countries to ensure long-term peace and stability in the region. He noted that together Pakistan and Afghanistan with their strategic locations were a bridge for the surrounding regions.

The purpose of the visit was also to brief President Ghani and Mr Rabbani on the recent developments on peace process after the meeting between Taliban and United States in Dubai, in which Saudi Arabia and UAE also participated, a Foreign Office statement said.

He said that expanding bilateral cooperation for improving relations with all its neighbours, especially with Afghanistan, was the top priority of Pakistan and that the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) was the most effective framework that provided practical avenues to address all issues of mutual interest.

The Afghan foreign ministry in a statement from Kabul said that during the meeting FM Rabbani emphasised on direct talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban.

The Afghan leadership while appreciating Pakistan’s constructive role in furthering the Afghan peace process, agreed to undertake joint steps for strengthening of bilateral ties and agreed to expand cooperation and coordination against terrorism.

“The Afghan leadership also appreciated Pakistan’s initiative for ensuring greater harmony among the neighbours of Afghanistan having serious stakes in peace and stability,” the Afghan FO said in a statement.

Later, Mr Qureshi travelled to Tehran from Kabul where he met Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. It was Mr Qureshi’s first official visit to Iran.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2018

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