FM Qureshi urges Biden administration to 'not reverse' Afghan peace process
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has urged the Biden administration to "persevere" with the Afghan peace deal which was signed in Doha between the United States and Taliban last year and "not reverse things".
The foreign minister made the remarks in an interview with Al Jazeera that was published on Thursday. He said that Joe Biden, who was sworn in as America's president on Wednesday, "should realise there is an opportunity in Afghanistan".
“Push them forward, because, after a long time, we have started moving in the right direction," Qureshi said.
Pakistan has played the role of mediator during the peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the US, which led to a landmark deal signed in Doha in February last year. According to a joint statement released by the parties at the time, a full withdrawal of all US and coalition forces would occur within 14 months of the deal getting signed, if the Taliban hold up their end of the agreement.
The US had committed to reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days of signing the deal, and working with its allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces in Afghanistan over the same period. Currently, there are 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan.
However, Biden's nominee for state secretary, Anthony Blinken, hinted earlier this week that an increase in violence in Afghanistan may lead to US retaining some of it troops.
"We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism, which is what brought us there in the first place," Blinken said in his confirmation hearing. “We have to look carefully at what has actually been negotiated. I haven't been privy to it yet."
US President Biden has stated that while he would reduce the number of combat troops in Afghanistan, he would not withdraw US military presence.
Last year, during a debate between Democratic presidential candidates, Biden had said: "We can prevent the United States from being the victim of terror coming out of Afghanistan by providing for bases — insist the Pakistanis provide bases for us to air lift from and to move against what we know."
Biden's nominee for defence secretary Gen Lloyd J Austin, meanwhile, identified Pakistan as an "essential partner" in the Afghan peace process during his confirmation hearing earlier this week.
“We are concerned because we feel violence can vitiate the climate,” Qureshi said in his interview with Al Jazeera yesterday. “Pakistan has done a lot, we have really bent backwards to create an environment to facilitate the peace process.”
The foreign minister further said that there were "spoilers" within Afghanistan who "have benefited from the war economy" and did not want the peace process to be successful. He also cautioned that there were "elements from outside who do not share our vision, which is a peaceful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan".
Ultimately, Qureshi said, it was the Afghan leadership's responsibility to ensure that the peace process succeeds.
"It's their country, it's their future."
Pakistan's relationship with the previous US administration had started out as thorny after former President Donald Trump ended the security assistance to Pakistan. However, relations improved after Pakistan assisted talks between US and the Afghan Taliban.
Islamabad has repeatedly emphasised that Pakistan has much to gain from peace in Afghanistan, which should be "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned".
“They (Biden administration) should be supportive of what, I feel, is a convergence of interests,” said Qureshi in the interview.
“Our approach, thinking, objectives and shared visions are very much in line with the priorities of the new administration. And that convergence can be built further.”
Qureshi also said that the US should not view Islamabad's close relations with China as a "zero-sum game".
“They [the US] should come, compete and invest,” Qureshi said, while referring to China's investment in Pakistan. The foreign minister further said that Pakistan was also willing to mediate between US and China if need be.
“Pakistan traditionally has had the opportunity and has built bridges between the two. In this environment, where there is a change […] Pakistan can be a bridge-builder,” said Qureshi. He was referring to Islamabad's mediation efforts between Washington and Beijing in 1972 in order to facilitate then US President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China.