Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday said that Pakistan is resolute towards finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict as "Pakistan supports an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself". The comments were made while addressing the inaugural session of a conference on Afghan peace titled Lahore Process held at Bhurban.
The Lahore Process has been set up to discuss different aspects of the Afghan peace process, which include bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan through connectivity, trade, economy and health.
The moot will discuss the issue of repatriation of Afghan refugees who have been living in Pakistan for the last four decades and delegates are expected to give proposals on the future course of action for Afghanistan.
'Pakistan supports an Afghanistan at peace with itself'
"Pakistan’s perspective on Afghanistan is clear, we support an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself, and at peace with its neighbours," Qureshi said in his welcome speech.
"We respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our neighbour and remain firmly committed to a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan. We are determined to build our bilateral relationship on the principles of non-interference, mutual respect and common interest."
'Pakistan has also suffered because of the Afghan conflict'
Speaking on how Pakistan has been affected by the conflict, Qureshi said: "The decades-long conflict has brought great suffering to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. After the Afghan nation, no one has suffered more than the people of Pakistan due to this persistent instability and conflict.
"Pakistan’s security continues to be deeply influenced by the security situation in Afghanistan. Advancing the cause of peace and stability in Afghanistan is, therefore, in Pakistan’s own national interest.
"Let this be absolutely clear: No one in Pakistan subscribes to any notion of so-called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. We must not let anyone resurrect this dead horse to advance their propagandistic aims or seek to sow the seeds of misunderstanding between us and our Afghan brethren. We wish to see a friendly Afghanistan, governed by an elected leadership, representative of the aspirations of all Afghans.
'The cycle of mistrust must end'
Speaking about the previously prevailing mistrust between the two countries, the foreign minister said: "For far too long, the vicious circle of mistrust, often fed into by our common enemies, has affected our relationship. The blame-game has not helped either of us. It is indispensable to move away from this negative paradigm.
"It is incumbent upon the leadership of the two countries to take practical steps to build mutual trust and confidence. We must not allow our respective territories to be used by anyone to the detriment of our interests.
"We must also remain vigilant of the other forces that wish to create misunderstandings and divisions between us. We must not allow them to harm our brotherly relations. We both have the same objective of long-term peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region. If there is, at times, variance in approaches, it must not be construed as difference in objectives."
'Pakistan always believed the solution to the Afghan conflict is not militarised, the world agrees with us now'
Discussing Pakistan's commitment to the Afghan peace process, Qureshi said: "While others believed in a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, we always thought that a politically negotiated settlement was the only way forward. It is gratifying to note that others have also reached the same conclusion now.
"Pakistan has whole-heartedly facilitated the Afghan peace process in good faith and as a shared responsibility and will continue playing its due role. Our support has been crucial in overcoming the political stalemate that looked impossible to break just a year ago.
"Prime Minister Imran Khan has for long been personally committed to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.My first visit after assuming office again in August 2018 was to Kabul. I have since visited Kabul three times. I also visited other regional countries including China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE in an effort to build regional consensus on the ongoing peace process."
'We believe the ultimate arbiters of future of Afghanistan are the Afghans themselves'
Reiterating the fact that it is only the Afghans that can effectively lead the peace process in their own country Qureshi said: "While efforts of all stakeholders are important, we do believe that the ultimate arbiters of the future of Afghanistan are only the Afghans themselves. We appreciate the progress achieved by Afghanistan over the past 18 years despite enormous challenges.
"It is critically important to preserve those gains and in fact, build on these achievements. Strengthening of democratic institutions in Afghanistan and progress on human rights, particularly women empowerment, are praise-worthy.
"Pakistan will continue to deepen its engagement with all sections of the Afghan society and their representatives in further cementing these achievements, as per expectations of the people of Afghanistan. In addition to playing our role in the peace process, Pakistan also remains committed to the Afghan reconstruction and development efforts, post-settlement.
"We stand ready to help Afghanistan through trade, investment, connectivity and capacity-building of the Afghan people. We are committed to enhancing people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges. We also wish to work with Afghanistan, and the world community, to help create conditions that enable dignified, safe and voluntary return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan."
'Afghanistan is at the cross-roads of peace and stability'
Speaking of the renewed push for peace and stability in Afghanistan, the foreign minister said: "The renewed push for peace has created a new opportunity and every effort must be made to seize it. We cannot afford to miss this rare opportunity.
"Let me conclude by reiterating Pakistan’s unshakable resolve to support peace, stability and long-term prosperity of Afghanistan and appreciating your respective contributions toward that end.
"It is the leadership of the country that can steer it out of conflict and put it on the path of stability and prosperity. This is a test of the wisdom and sagacity of everyone involved.
"The people of Afghanistan are looking towards their leaders including all those present here, with the hope for a better future, a future that they so earnestly deserve."
Heads of all Afghan political parties and the political advisory to the Afghan president are participating in the conference.
In all, fifty seven delegates are attending the moot including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, senators and members of Afghan parliament.
The conference is being held before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's visit to Pakistan, which is expected to take place on next Thursday.
President Dr Arif Alvi will host a banquet in honour of delegates and participants of the conference will also call on Prime Minister Imran Khan.