UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan has urged the United States to remain engaged in Afghanistan even if a peace deal with the Taliban leads to the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also underlined Pakistan’s role as a key regional player.

“Pakistan-US relations are too significant and possess too huge a potential to be confined to the Afghan prism alone,” he said.

The foreign minister is currently in the United States on the third leg of his mission to defuse tensions in the Middle East, having already visited Tehran and Riyadh as part of Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts.

He argued that a complete disengagement from the region, as was done after the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan in 1989, will have disastrous consequences for all.

“You were there, and you left. We feel that this time, even if there’s a successful agreement, challenges will remain there,” he said. “So, the United States and its coalition partners will have to have a more responsible withdrawal, and they should remain engaged, not to fight but to rebuild.”

Reminding US policy makers that Afghanistan will need investments and financial support after the pullout as well, Mr Qureshi warned that if the United States and its allies did not remain engaged, “Afghanistan will not be able to sustain (itself). Do not repeat the 80s. Learn from the 80s.”

The foreign minister’s visit, which aimed at reducing tensions between the United States and Iran, has been over-shadowed by an expected positive news from Doha, Qatar, where US and Taliban officials are reportedly finalising a peace deal to end the 18-year old war in Afghanistan.

Since Pakistan played a key role in arranging this deal, the subject also dominated Mr Qureshi’s engagements in Washington.

Asked if the deal, if signed, could ending the blood-letting in Afghanistan, he said he believed it would. “Taliban are pragmatic, and they are smart. They are not foolish. They are also fatigued,” he said. “They have also been fighting for too long.”

Mr Qureshi said he felt that there’s a realisation among the Taliban that Afghanistan had changed considerably and could not push the clocks back.

“Those days are gone. Afghanistan has changed considerably, and they will have to adjust to that change. You cannot anymore deprive women of education,” he said. “If they want their country to be stable and prosper, they will have to reconcile.”

Mr Qureshi also spoke of the need to reframe the Strategic Pakistan-US relationship, emphasising that a “stable and thriving partnership” between Washington and Islamabad was vital.

Pakistan, he said, also has a key role in restoring peace in Afghanistan but this “ultimately is a shared responsibility and Pakistan alone cannot do all that is needed”.

At a community event at the Pakistan Embassy, the foreign minister also shared his views on the situation in India-held Kashmir, stating that Pakistan wanted a solution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the United Nations’ resolutions and the aspirations of Kashmiris.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2020