Disengaging Taliban, abandoning Afghans will create space for terrorist outfits, warns FM Qureshi

Published September 2, 2021
This screengrab shows Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in an interview with Sky News. — Photo courtesy Sky News
This screengrab shows Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in an interview with Sky News. — Photo courtesy Sky News

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has urged the international community not to repeat the "mistake" of abandoning the people of Afghanistan, warning that doing so and not engaging with the Taliban would give space to international terrorist organisations.

In an interview given to Britain's Sky News, which was aired on Wednesday, Qureshi said that following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, the international community had the options of either to engage with or isolate the Taliban.

"International community has to weigh its options," he said, adding that isolating Afghanistan would be a "dangerous option".

"That's an option of abandonment of Afghan people," the foreign minister said, emphasising that he was speaking about the people of Afghanistan particularly.

He recalled that the world committed the same "mistake" in the 1990s and urged the international community not to repeat it.

When asked what would be the consequences of repeating the mistake, the foreign minister pointed out that it could desecend Afghanistan into choas, civil war, anarchy, and eventually lead to creating space for international terrorist organisations.

"We do not want their (international terrorist organisations') footprint to grow in Afghanistan," he added.

At that, the interviewer pointed out that it seemed as if Qureshi was urging Western powers to recognise the Taliban.

Qureshi dispelled the impression, saying that he was instead calling for engagement with the Taliban as he believed the "consequences of disengagement are far worse".

Referring to the Taliban's initial statements, wherein the group seemed to be distancing itself from its old harsh and oppressive style of governance witnessed between 1996 and 2001, Qureshi termed them "positive and encouraging".

And while the international community remained skeptical how sincere the Taliban were about implementing their pronouncements, he said, the world should "test them".

When asked whether he believed that the Taliban had changed, the foreign minister replied: "All I can say is I hope they have. I hope they have learnt from their mistakes."

"And I think that the attitude and approach that they are demonstrating so far is reflective of a different approach."

When the interviewer asked him to clarify whether he believed that the Taliban had changed, Qureshi reiterated that his stance remained that the Taliban should be tested to gauge whether they could be trusted with their promises.

"And if they do, then build on it. Because the other option is far worse."

Qureshi added that the sensible approach for the Taliban would be to respect international opinion and norms as they needed humanitarian and financial assistance at present to run Afghanistan.

He further warned that without any assistance, Afghanistan would experience an economic collapse.

The foreign minister was also asked about the reports of the raising of Taliban flags after Kabul's fall and the support the group had in Pakistan.

Qureshi pointed out that over four million Afghans were living in Pakistan, many of whom had connections and relations with the Taliban.

He added that the flags were raised in jubilation at the prospect of them returning home.

When asked about the allegations of Pakistan playing a "double game" and supporting the Taliban, Qureshi replied: "Pakistan sincerely cooperated with the international community [on Afghanistan]. Pakistan sincerely wanted peace [in Afghanistan]."

At that, the interviewer asked him whether Pakistan had extended support to the Taliban as well.

In reply, Qureshi said that before the US drawdown, negotiations between the Afghan political leadership and the Taliban were under way in Doha, claiming that 40 per cent to 45pc of the territory in Afghanistan was in the Taliban's control even before the US withdrawal.

"They (the Taliban), didn't need our (Pakistan's) nod, consent or help. They were managing their own affairs," he said.

Earlier in the interview, he said Pakistan had wanted the Afghan peace process to move in tandem with the US withdrawal, which should have been "responsible" and "orderly".

He maintained that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was "not responsible and not orderly".

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