Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi arrived in Beijing on Tuesday morning on the third leg of his whirlwind three-day four-nation tour, following visits to Afghanistan and Iran.
The foreign minister's tour to Afghanistan, Iran, China and Russia is aimed at taking regional countries on board about Pakistan's fresh push to jumpstart the Afghan reconciliation process.
Qureshi was greeted at the airport by Chinese Foreign Ministry officials and held a meeting with his counterpart Wang Yi.
The two parties discussed bilateral relations, promotion of regional connectivity and important regional and global issues, Radio Pakistan reported. Delegation-level talks were also held between both sides.
Both sides reiterated their determination to adopt a joint course of action for regional peace and stability and to promote connectivity, the report stated.
Qureshi called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor an undertaking of extensive strategic importance for Pakistan and the region. The foreign minister said that CPEC is a reflection of Chinese President Xi Jinping's One Belt One Road vision, and that Pak-China friendship is greatly appreciated both, at a public, as well as government level.
Qureshi's visits to Kabul, Tehran
Qureshi visited Kabul on Monday on the first leg of his trip, where he held ─ what he described as ─ "productive meetings" with Afghan leadership.
This was 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.
A Foreign Office statement said that one of the aims of the visit was to brief Afghan President Ghani and Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani on recent developments in the Afghan peace process after a meeting between the Taliban and United States in Dubai, in which Saudi Arabia and UAE also participated.
Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal said that the Pakistani and Afghan sides had both agreed during their meeting yesterday to continue the peace process and discussed issues of mutual interest, progress on Afghan peace and reconciliation process as well as bilateral trade.
While apprising the Afghan leadership on Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue, the foreign minister had 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.
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 had 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, Qureshi travelled to Tehran from Kabul where he met Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. It was his first official visit to Iran.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also spoke to Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani yesterday. A source said that the conversation with the Qatari emir was also in this connection.
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.
The prime minister was to visit Doha, but now Qureshi will be going there on Dec 30 (Sunday) to meet the premier's Qatari counterpart.
Pakistan's push for Afghan peace
Pakistan had 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 have 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.
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, Qureshi’s visit is meant to reassure regional partners that Pakistan is not ditching them on the Afghan reconciliation issue.
The US hopes that the Taliban and Afghan government strike a peace deal by April 2019. President Donald Trump plans to withdraw roughly half of the more than 14,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan by the end of next year ─ a move that is opposed by the Pentagon, which wants to continue to apply direct and indirect military pressure on the Taliban, while supporting nascent efforts for peace.
Pakistan, in response to the US president's request for help with Afghan reconciliation process hosted talks between the US and the Taliban from Dec 17-19. The talks started in Abu Dhabi with Saudi Arabia and the UAE also present in the room in addition to the US, Taliban and Pakistani representatives.
The Afghan government, however, was not part of the negotiations because of the Taliban's refusal to talk to what they call the "US puppets".
Afghan officials have, however, held separate quadrilateral meetings with the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE, and discussed the possibility of "direct engagement of the Afghan government with the Taliban for the planned intra-Afghan dialogue".