Pakistan wants refugees kept inside Afghanistan

Published August 1, 2021
NSA Moeed Yusuf described the PTI government’s US policy as “pragmatic and unapologetic, but not boastful”. — AFP/File
NSA Moeed Yusuf described the PTI government’s US policy as “pragmatic and unapologetic, but not boastful”. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf has said that arrangements should be made to keep displaced Afghans inside their country instead of pushing them into Pakistan.

Addressing a news conference at the Pakistan embassy here on Saturday, Mr Yusuf said Pakistan was focused on ensuring that tensions in Afghanistan do not lead to more bloodshed. “But if a situation arises, it is the responsibility of the international community to create a secure area inside Afghanistan,” said the Pakistani official when asked if Islamabad was ready to accept more refugees from Pakistan.

“Why make them dar-ba-dar (homeless)? Make arrangement for them inside their country. Pakistan does not have the capacity to take more refugees.”

Mr Yusuf described the PTI government’s US policy as “pragmatic and unapologetic, but not boastful” and urged people not to look for “big pictures and all-embracing headlines”.

NSA says Islamabad doesn’t have capacity to take more Afghan refugees

The NSA arrived in Washington on July 27 along with Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence Faiz Hameed for talks with their American counterparts on Afghanistan and bilateral relations.

The ISI chief left Washington on Friday, a day after talks with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House, which was also attended by other security officials from both sides.

“We needed direct technical input. This was not a high-level political visit and focused on technical issues, nuts and bolts,” said Mr Yusuf while explaining why an intelligence chief had to participate in the talks.

The process of rebuilding US-Pakistan ties began on May 27 with a meeting between the two NSAs in Geneva.

“These are structure-built, high-level talks, using multiple channels,” said Mr Yusuf. The talks, he said, would continue towards rebuilding ties but “you may not get the same feeling as you did in the past of big meetings, big pictures and headlines. These talks are now result-oriented. The focus is on substance, not optics”.

The NSA disagreed with the suggestion that Pakistan had the influence to force the Afghan Taliban to do what they did not want. “We have modest, minimal leverage, but if had the influence some say we do, we would have stopped them from destroying the Bamiyan Buddha in the 1990s,” he said. “We could have at least persuaded them to force out the TTP.”

Responding to a question about the perceived US pressure on Pakistan, Mr Yusuf said: “Minor irritants are unnecessary. If criticism is justified, yes, but Pakistan having child soldiers? Is it logical?”

He pointed out that the Indian foreign minister too accepted influencing the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). “We do raise and discuss these issues. It is an ongoing process.”

Mr Yusuf said that in their first meeting the two NSAs had agreed that Pakistan and the US should continue their holistic bilateral engagement.

“Afghanistan of course is the most important and immediate issue, but these talks are focused on how to move forward on multiple issues,” he said. “This week’s meeting is a follow-up to take stock of the process.”

Mr Yusuf acknowledged that there “has been ups and downs in US-Pakistan relations but we need to work ahead. And we got a very positive response in terms of moving forward.”

He urged the media not to expect an over-night, revolutionary change in US-Pakistan relations because of these meetings but to remember that “we are focused on substance and have an agreement on how to move forward.”

Pakistan, he said, did not have the “luxury of indulging in ifs and buts” when it comes to Afghanistan because every development there has a direct impact on Pakistan.

According to him, Pakistan’s main concern remains peace in Afghanistan, and it would only come “if all factions sit together and accept a political solution”.

The political solution, however, “cannot happen without US involvement,” said the NSA, adding that he sensed a receptivity on the US side to work together with Pakistan on this issue.

Asked if Pakistan and the US can continue to work as partners, he said he saw a desire on both sides to do so and “the talks are about how to do it”.

The United States, he said, understood that Pakistan can help in making a political arrangement in Afghanistan and they were now discussing how to approach this. “The biggest thing would be to do a political understanding, other things will follow,” he said. “All our conversations are technical conversations.”

Mr Yusuf rejected the suggestion that Pakistan was accepting travel documents issued by the Taliban as legal documents. “Pakistan does not want any illegal or unwarranted movement. Whatever happens inside is Afghanistan’s issue, not ours. We do not have anything to do with it,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2021

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