ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday pledged neutrality in the Afghan conflict and at the same time denounced both the Taliban’s spring offensive and intensified security operations by Afghan forces, saying such actions weaken prospects for peace.
“The so-called offensives are condemnable and will undermine the peace process. It is not right to seek an edge in dialogue through coercion,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a policy statement on Afghan peace. “Pakistan is highly dismayed by the surge of violence in Afghanistan from all sides,” he added.
The statement was made as a United Nations report revealed that more Afghan civilians were killed by coalition forces than Taliban and other terrorist groups in the first quarter of 2019. The report said that 305 civilians were killed by coalition forces, while terrorist groups were responsible for the killing of 227 people.
The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan documented 581 deaths, including 150 children, between Jan 1 and March 31 this year. Civilian casualties were mostly caused by air strikes and ground search operations by the security forces.
Taliban this month announced the spring offensive, whereas the security forces intensified their crackdown. This has led to a sharp escalation in the fighting between the two sides.
PM says Taliban’s offensive and Afghan forces’ operations undermine peace process
Acting Afghan Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid and acting Minister for Interior Affairs Massoud Andarabi, meanwhile, at a press conference in Kabul pledged to implement the government’s security plan and speed up counterterrorism operations.
“Pakistan implores all parties to recognise the importance of the moment and seize it,” Prime Minister Khan said in his statement and recalled that his government had “committed all diplomatic and security capital” for the success of peace initiatives in Afghanistan.
Pakistan had facilitated dialogue between the Taliban and the United States and has been encouraging intra-Afghan dialogue. Refusal by the Afghan Taliban to talk to government representatives has remained the biggest hurdle to the start of the intra-Afghan process. A meeting of the Taliban with a group of Afghan politicians, which was to be held on April 14, was cancelled because the Taliban had reservations over the 250-member delegation that was planning to meet them.
“Pakistan will not be party to any internal conflict in Afghanistan anymore,” Mr Khan emphasised.
The prime minister reminded the warring Afghan factions that the conflict had brought great suffering for both Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last 40 years. “Now, after a long wait, the Afghanistan peace process presents a historic opportunity for peace in the region and Pakistan is fully supporting the process including the next logical step of intra-Afghan dialogue wherein Afghans will themselves decide upon the future of their country,” he maintained.
Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal, while speaking at a weekly media briefing at the FO, said: “Pakistan’s position is quite clear that we want an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and support all dialogues in this regard.”
Commenting on PM Khan’s recent trip to Tehran, the spokesman said both Pakistan and Iran were ready to address security issues “comprehensively”.
Mr Khan’s trip was marred by a controversy over his comments at a joint press conference with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani in which he had made certain candid remarks about terrorist attacks suffered by Iran in border regions.
PM Office later said that the prime minister had been quoted out of context, saying that he in fact wanted to say that foreign intelligence agencies-inspired terrorists were behind the terrorism incidents.
“The prime minister during his visit to Iran has stated that security issues and concerns of both sides need to be resolved completely through close engagement of the agencies concerned. Both sides are ready to address this subject comprehensively,” the FO spokesman said.
About the controversy over the reported construction of a firing range, he denied that a firing range was being constructed at the US Embassy in Islamabad. He maintained that Islamabad police and US Embassy were cooperating for upgrade of capital territory’s firing range facilities.
The US Embassy in a statement separately described the news reports about the firing range on its compound as “baseless and untrue”.
“In fact, US Embassy responded to multiple requests from the government of Pakistan and, with the approval of the Ministry of Interior and other relevant Pakistani government agencies, agreed to fund the complete refurbishment of an existing firing range for the Islamabad Capital Territory police. The upgrades to the firing range are intended to make the range safer for the Pakistani police who use it, as well as the Pakistanis and diplomats who live and work near the range,” the embassy’s statement clarified.
“The firing range is not in the US Embassy compound. It is a Pakistani police facility in the Diplomatic Enclave,” it added.
Aafia Siddiqui’s return
Responding to a question about his recent interview to a newspaper in which he had reportedly stated that Dr Afia Siddiqui might not want to return to Pakistan, the FO spokesman said his remarks had been “quoted out of context”.
“The remarks were quoted out of context. We are in touch with Dr Aafia and her family and we will continue our efforts to bring her back to Pakistan. We encourage responsible journalism,” he said.
The spokesman said they continued raising the issue in Islamabad as well as in Washington and remained engaged with the US authorities. “Our consul general in Houston regularly visits Dr Aafia. The last visit took place on April 18,” he added.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019