• Says Afghan turmoil to affect Pakistan the most
• Seeks EU support for peace process
• Tells Indian media RSS is hurdle in way of talks
• Terms ties with Uzbekistan ‘beginning of prosperity’
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday gave a robust response to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s allegation about Pakistan’s “negative role” in the Afghan peace process and said it was “extremely unfair” to blame Islamabad for the situation in Afghanistan.
Fearing influx of Afghan refugees in Pakistan due to growing violence in the neighbouring country, the prime minister called upon the European Union (EU) and international community to support Pakistan in the rehabilitation of Afghan refugees.
He also said Pakistan’s connectivity with Uzbekistan in trade and bilateral spheres would connect Central Asian states with the rest of the world.
The prime minister expressed these views at the international conference on “Central and South Asia Regional Connectivity: Challenges and Opportunities” during his two-day visit to Uzbekistan. President Ghani was also present at the conference.
The prime minister met the Afghan president on the sidelines of the conference but the body language of the former showed that he was quite ‘reserved’ while meeting Mr Ghani.
President Ghani, who spoke before Prime Minister Khan at the conference, had alleged that 10,000 militants sneaked into Afghanistan from Pakistan to create unrest there.
While terming the statement ‘extremely unfair’, PM Khan said: “Due to the Afghan conflict, Pakistan is the worst affected country and it was unfair to blame Pakistan for turmoil in Afghanistan.”
“President Ghani let me just say that the country that will be most affected by turmoil in Afghanistan is Pakistan. Pakistan suffered 70,000 casualties in the last 15 years. The last thing Pakistan wants is more conflict,” the premier said as he stopped reading from his written speech.
He said after withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban were hopeful for their win in the current war in the neighbouring country, adding that why Taliban would come for dialogue when they were sensing victory in their country.
“Taliban are no longer willing to compromise after the United States gave a date for the withdrawal of troops. When there were 150,000 Nato troops [...] that was the time to ask the Taliban to come to the table. Why were the Taliban going to compromise once the exit date was given [...] why would they listen to us (Pakistan) when they are sensing victory,” he added.
After the meeting, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt-Gen Faiz Hamid, who accompanied the prime minister, told the media that not from Pakistan but violation of border was being committed from Afghanistan and Pakistan security forces were being targeted.
Red Zone Files: Managing the spillover from Afghanistan is a fine balancing act for Pakistan
The prime minister said Pakistan’s economy was finally recovering after going through a difficult phase. “I repeat the last thing we want is turbulence in Afghanistan. No country has tried harder than Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the table for dialogue. We have made every effort, short of taking military action against the Taliban in Pakistan, to get them on the dialogue table and to have a peaceful settlement [in Afghanistan],” he added.
He reminded the Afghan president that he would not have visited Kabul in November last year if Pakistan had not been interested in peace. “The whole idea was to look upon Pakistan as a partner in peace. I feel disappointed that we have been blamed for what is going on in Afghanistan,” Mr Khan remarked.
He said the current situation in Afghanistan was the result of longstanding conflict and the US efforts to seek a military solution to it.
He also said he had a conversation with Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev about how all the neighbours in the region could facilitate the Afghan peace process.
“It is in all of our interests,” he reiterated.
PM meets EU representative
On the sideline of the conference, PM Khan met Josep Borrell, European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission, and discussed the Afghan conflict.
Tweeting about the meeting, Mr Borrell said: “Opportunity to meet with Prime Minister of Pakistan@ImranKhanPTI in the margins of the Tashkent #Connectivity Conference. Discussed security challenges and impact of instability on the region. A peacefully negotiated settlement in Afghanistan is the only way forward.”
While highlighting Pakistan’s vital contributions to the Afghan peace process and intra-Afghan negotiations, Mr Khan said Pakistan had been taking care of three million Afghan refugees for decades due to the conflict and expressed the apprehension that more refugees could to come due to war in Afghanistan.
“We are petrified that there will be another influx of refugees and we do not have the capacity or the economic strength to bear it. So I can assure you again, if any country is trying its best, it is Pakistan,” he added.
Mr Khan said the conflict could only be settled through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political process leading to a comprehensive negotiated political settlement.
The prime minister highlighted the significance of continued engagement of international community to facilitate lasting peace in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Nato forces.
RSS main hurdle, says PM
Responding to an Indian journalist who approached the prime minister after the conference, Mr Khan said the Indian Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology was the main hurdle in the normalisation of ties with Pakistan.
Asked about Pakistan’s stance on talks with India, the prime minister said: “We have been trying to tell India … that we have been waiting … for a long time, let’s live like civilized neighbours, … but what to do, as the RSS ideology has come in the way.”
Mr Khan said Pakistan’s connectivity with Uzbekistan in trade and bilateral spheres would open up new avenues of prosperity in the region.
“Pakistan has immense potential to connect Central Asia with rest of the world and become a hub of trade,” he said in his address at the Uzbekistan-Pakistan Business Forum, held here in the Uzbek capital.
Pak-Uzbek Business Forum was attended by around 130 representatives of leading companies and business houses from Pakistan and the activity resulted in signing of agreements is said to be worth $453 million.
PM Khan said: “I want to assure the business community of Uzbekistan that this relationship is just the beginning of the journey of development and prosperity.” He was of the opinion that the railways project among Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan would prove to be a revolutionary development.
“Pakistan is keen for peace in Afghanistan and considers it vital for trade connectivity among the regional countries,” he said, adding that such trade linkages helped in raising the living standards of the citizens.
He hoped that with the support and will of the regional states, the situation in Afghanistan would lead to improvement.
Mr Khan said Pakistan and Uzbekistan enjoyed relations rooted in common faith, culture and history and offered a unique dimension to the two nations to explore each other in diverse areas.
In his speech, Uzbekistan PM Abdulla Aripov mentioned the strong ties between Pakistan and Uzbekistan in multiple areas of cooperation.
He welcomed Mr Khan on his official visit that he said would usher in a new area of cooperation and joint ventures between the two brotherly countries.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said two important objectives of the premier’s visit were to deliberate upon ways to ensure peace in Afghanistan and to ensure travel facilities among the three countries. He explained that Pakistan desired an effective trade linkage up to Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states.
“We want an effective transportation infrastructure so that the goods loaded from Pakistan’s Karachi and Gwadar seaports could reach Uzbekistan’s Tashkent,” he said in a video message from the Uzbek capital.
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2021