ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi informed the National Assembly on Monday that the next round of the intra-Afghan dialogue would be held in Norwegian capital Oslo and expressed the hope that there would be more progress towards peace in Afghanistan as Taliban had also agreed to hold talks.

Speaking in the National Assembly on the opening day of its new session here, the foreign minister highlighted efforts being made by Pakistan for peace in war-torn Afghanistan and stated that the world, particularly the US, had now started acknowledging Islamabad’s role in the ongoing peace process.

Mr Qureshi was responding to a speech made by Opposition Leader and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif who had sought a briefing from the government on recent attacks on members of security forces along the border with Afghanistan and in Balochistan resulting in the martyrdom of 10 soldiers soon after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US.

“(The) Doha process has made progress and more countries are now taking part in it. Germany and Norway are participating in it. You will see more progress in Oslo,” the foreign minister said while informing the house about the outcome of the recent official visits of Prime Minister Khan to the US and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan.

Session ends in rumpus amid noisy protest by both treasury and opposition members

The assembly session once again ended with a rumpus when the treasury and opposition members started noisy protests against each other, following a hard-hitting speech by hot-headed Communications Minister Murad Saeed in response to speeches of Mr Sharif and PPP’s Khurshid Shah.

After desperately failing to maintain order in the house, Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri adjourned the proceedings till Thursday afternoon after tabling of the New Pakistan Housing Authority Ordinance by Housing Minister Tariq Bashir Cheema.

Mr Qureshi warmed that there were “spoilers” on the other side of the border who did not want peace and stability in the region.

“We say that there are sanctuaries (of terrorists) on the other side of the border. People from there (Afghanistan) come to Pakistan to carry out (terrorist) activities,” he said.

Mr Qureshi said that Pakistan’s security forces had cleared most of the area and the process of border fencing was still going on, but there were people who had their own agendas.

“This was also discussed in the US [...] there are spoilers. There will always be spoilers,” he said, adding that Pakistan wanted reconciliation in Afghanistan to reach its logical conclusion.

The foreign minister said there had been a “major shift” in the US policy towards Afghanistan. He said there had been a “gradual change of thought” during the PTI government’s 11 months in power, with the US and its allies reaching a “convergence” with Prime Minister Imran Khan that there was no military solution to the Afghan conflict.

“Bringing the supporters of military solution to political solution was a big task and it is a major shift,” he added.

He said that representatives of all political parties and ethnic groups of Afghanistan recently participated in the Lahore process held in Bhurban and Pakistan dispelled the impression that it preferred any party or talked about its strategic depth.

Mr Qureshi said it was after a gap of five years that a prime minister of Pakistan got the invitation to visit the US.

“Availing that invitation, the prime minister presented Pakistan’s point of view and stance in the US,” he claimed, adding that the government had attained “immense success” in turning an unfavourable atmosphere in the Pakistan-US relationship to a favourable one.

He recalled that in the past, the US used to put all the blame on Pakistan for its difficulties in Afghanistan and in 2017, US President Donald Trump had suspended economic and military assistance of Pakistan besides stopping training programmes.

The minister said he had convened a meeting of the assembly’s foreign affairs committee for a detailed briefing on the PM’s US visit and was ready to give the briefing to the house.

He said that peace in Afghanistan would bring economic prosperity in Pakistan with more infrastructure development and initiation of the second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. He termed the recent elections in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas as historic.

Production Order

Earlier, speaking on points of order, Shahbaz Sharif and Khurshid Shah urged the NA speaker to issue production orders for jailed lawmakers.

“If you don’t issue production orders, it will affect the dignity of the house. Please don’t take directions from the prime minister,” Mr Sharif said.

The opposition leader alleged that party MNA Rana Sanaullah was being kept in a solitary confinement where he had “no bed, no mattress, no chair and he is forced to sleep on the floor”.

This treatment, he said, was not meted to even enemies, adding that even Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav was being kept in better conditions.

“Democracy is on a weak platform and they all need to strengthen it. If God forbid any damage is caused to it, then they will not be able to do anything, but regret,” he added.

PPP’s Khurshid Shah alleged that the speaker was not playing his due role and the parliament was being made redundant.

Communications Minister Murad Saeed in his usual aggressive style lashed out at the opposition leaders for their alleged corruption in the past. He made personal attacks on PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari and the Sharif family, prompting the opposition members to stand up and start raising slogans against him.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2019