ISLAMABAD: With Afghanistan at the crossroads, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi leaves on a four-nation tour on Tuesday (today) for consultations on an inclusive interim arrangement in the war-torn country.

Speaking at a press conference at the Foreign Office here on Monday, the foreign minister said the objective of his visit was to discuss immediate challenges the neighbours of Afghanistan were facing, including the immediate fear of an influx, and evolve a joint strategy to deal with such a situation.

He said that besides three Central Asian states — Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — he will also be travelling to Iran. He said the discussions there would focus on how to move forward on regional connectivity and to have a coordinated regional approach to meet shared responsibility.

Answering a question, he confirmed that Islamabad had urged the Afghan Taliban to extradite most wanted terrorists affiliated with the outlawed TTP to Pakistan.

Confirms Pakistan has sought extradition of most wanted TTP terrorists operating from Afghanistan

Referring to an announcement by the Taliban that they will not allow the Afghan soil to be used against any country, Mr Qureshi said the TTP had been used against Pakistan. Terming Pakistan’s concerns genuine, he said its expectations were realistic.

He expressed the hope that the incoming government in Afghanistan would keep an eye on all terrorist organisations, including the TTP. “We do not want Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists.”

The minister said Islamabad had sought extradition of individuals belonging to the TTP who were involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan. Pakistan, which had a desire for a prosperous future for the Afghan people would see reciprocity of approach from the other side, he hoped.

He said there was a vacuum in Afghanistan after former president Ashraf Ghani and his associates had fled the country and the Taliban regained control over most of the war-torn country. “We have a desire of this vacuum being filled as soon as possible and see Afghanistan marching towards the destination of peace and stability.”

Mr Qureshi said it boded well that a dialogue was under way and the Taliban leadership had met Abdullah Abdullah, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Hamid Karzai. He expressed the hope that the negotiations would end soon leading to formation of a structure that brings uncertainty to an end. He said Pakistan was playing its role and hoped that other countries of the region would effectively join the joint efforts to achieve a shared objective.

The foreign minister welcomed the positive statements from the Taliban depicting their mindset, including announcement of a general amnesty, vowing not to indulge in victimisation and declaring that there is no justification for a war anymore, besides promising to stamp out poppy cultivation and drug culture.

He said the international community should continue its engagement with the Taliban. “If the engagement continues and the positive messaging is appreciated, a positive outcome can accrue,” he said, adding that the smoother the transition, the better it would be.

In reply to a question, Mr Qureshi urged New Delhi to shun old approach if it wanted to move along with the international community. Referring to the spoilers within Afghanistan and beyond, he said India could be clearly seen in overdrive in its smear campaign against Pakistan. He said the world should exert pressure on India for playing a responsible role.

The minister also slated the Indian media for irresponsible reporting and pointed out that according to their reporting he is currently in Kabul. He said trade and connectivity would benefit the entire region.

Answering a question, he said the international community wanted Pakistan’s help in evacuation and promotion of inclusive interim arrangement in Afghanistan. He said Afghanistan has number of important ethnic groups and their inclusion in the interim setup would make the government more acceptable.

Saudi diplomatic staff

Foreign Minister Qureshi also referred to his telephonic conversation with his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in the day and said the issue of shifting Saudi diplomatic staff from Kabul to Pakistan came under discussion.

According to a statement issued by the Foreign Office, the two foreign ministers exchanged views on the latest situation in Afghanistan and also discussed a number of issues of bilateral importance.

Mr Qureshi thanked Saudi Arabia, in its capacity as the current Chair of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit, for convening the OIC’s extraordinary meeting at the level of Permanent Representatives on Aug 22 to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

He said a peaceful and stable Afghanistan was of critical importance for Pakistan and the region and expressed the hope that the Afghan parties would work for an inclusive political settlement to ensure sustainable peace and security in the country and the region.

In the bilateral context, the two foreign ministers reviewed the implementation of the decisions taken during Prince Faisal’s visit to Pakistan in July. Expressing satisfaction at the growing momentum in bilateral relations, they agreed to further strengthen cooperation in diverse fields and continue close collaboration on all issues of common interest.

FM Qureshi also received a telephone call from Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, apprised the latter of Pakistan’s perspective on the latest developments in Afghanistan. He said he had been in touch with several European and other foreign ministers over the last few days to exchange views on Afghanistan.

Mr Qureshi underlined that no other country wanted a peaceful and stable Afghanistan more than Pakistan, adding that Pakistan had consistently advocated for an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan as the best way forward and had been supporting efforts in that direction.

He emphasised that the immediate priority was to ensure safety, security and protection of the rights of all Afghans. He said that as a responsible member of the international community, Pakistan was fully facilitating several European countries, international organisations and media agencies to evacuate their nationals/employees and others from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s efforts have been widely acknowledged, he added.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2021

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