FM, adviser warn of aggravating situation in Afghanistan

Published July 10, 2021
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad had proposed power sharing to avoid civil war in Afghanis­tan, but deep rivalries there prevented progress. — PID/File
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad had proposed power sharing to avoid civil war in Afghanis­tan, but deep rivalries there prevented progress. — PID/File

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf warned on Friday that the aggravating situation in Afghanistan could have serious implications for Pakistan and called for preparing for the changed reality.

They were speaking at the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

NSA Yusuf said that the situation in Afghanistan, following US withdrawal, had turned very bad. Pakistan, he said, did not have control over the happenings in Afghanistan.

He feared that Pakistan could, however, suffer the most from the intensified civil war in Afghanistan. He, moreover, worried that there was no economic plan to sustain Afghanistan.

Pakistan needs to ready itself for new circumstances, Senate panel told

Emphasising the importance of Afghanistan for Pakistan, the NSA said without peace in Afghanis­tan, Pakistan would not be able to optimise its geo-economic paradigm.

FM Qureshi also shared a similar assessment about Afghanistan, saying that the situation there was rapidly deteriorating and that Pakis­tan needed to ready itself for the new circumstances.

Violence in Afghanistan has increased manifold since foreign forces began leaving on May 1. Afghan Taliban, meanwhile, have made key advances by capturing large areas from the government control. They are also controlling some of the border crossings with neighbouring countries.

It is being feared that the Taliban could soon capture Kabul. But the committee was told that as per US assessment fall of Kabul was not imminent.

There are, nevertheless, concerns that increased violence and instability in Afghanistan could lead to an influx of refugees. According to official estimates, up to 700,000 new refugees could reach here. Pakistan is already hosting about three million Afghan refugees.

The other fear is that Taliban ascendancy could embolden and revitalise Pakistani militants and their sympathisers, especially Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, which is currently based in Afghanistan. This could lead to resurgence of militancy and extremism.

“Pakistan is handling refugees with limited resources. We can’t take in more refugees. We want the three million refugees living here to return home,” Mr Qureshi said.

Mr Yusuf, while detailing the contingency planning, said: “Pakistan has erected a fence and started effective surveillance at border crossings.” Additional law enforcement measures at the border crossings have also been taken, he added.

He, however, said that UN refugee agency, UNHCR, would set up camps for the refugees if such a situation arises. In the first instance, he said, effort would be made to make these camps on the Afghan side of the border.

Both Mr Qureshi and Mr Yusuf agreed that TTP could benefit from Afghan Taliban getting dominance in the conflict, which could mean more violence within Pakistan.

“If TTP gets stronger, Pakistan will suffer,” the foreign minister opined.

The NSA said that TTP terrorists could enter Pakistan from Afghanistan in the guise of refugees and carry out attacks.

He, however, rejected claims of presence of Taliban militants in Gilgit-Baltistan. He dismissed a video clip about Taliban at Babusar Top, which connects Kaghan valley with Chilas, as Indian propaganda and played it down as an isolated incident.

India, he said, was sponsoring the propaganda video about Taliban in GB and spreading it. “There is no organic presence of Taliban in Gilgit-Baltistan. Agencies have also made many arrests,” he maintained.

Talking about Pakistan role in facilitating peace efforts in Afghanistan, FM Qureshi said Islamabad had proposed power sharing to avoid civil war in Afghanis­tan, but deep rivalries there prevented progress. Quoting Afghan High Peace Council chief Abdullah Abdullah, he said there were very strong groupings and lobbies in Afghanistan’s ruling clique. Pakistan, he maintained, was not in a position to address Afghanis­tan’s internal complexities.

The foreign minister, however, noted commonalities between Pakistan and US objectives for Afghanistan. “US wants a negotiated settlement of the conflict and we too want the same,” he said.

The foreign minister recalled that Pakistan had wanted US forces to “orderly” withdraw, but they pulled out quickly for a safe withdrawal.

He said the US had assu­red Pakistan that it would keep diplomatic presence in Afghanis­tan, continue humanitarian and security assistance, support the Afghan air force, and ensure the security of Kabul Airport.

Sherry Rehman, the committee’s chairperson, said members voiced concern about the impact of the accelerated United States’ exit, and the security vacuum that has ensued.

Pakistan’s first priority, she said, must be to protect itself from a surge in violent extremism, as well as a constructed narrative from certain spoiler quarters that Pakistan has to bear the responsibility for both security and peace in Afghanistan.

She suggested that Pakistan must launch a diplomatic offensive for “a big-tent conference” that could help in negotiating peace and shore up the war-torn country.

Ms Rehman said: “It is not the best time to be making enemies in any geopolitical contest in the region or in the broader global context, given our exposure to the multilateral system. Pakistan should not get caught up in the crosshairs of any new great game, or at least manage a balance.”

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2021

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