Pakistan needs to coexist with and have 'realistic' approach to Taliban: Qureshi

Published September 3, 2021
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (L) and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi address a press conference in Islamabad. — Photo courtesy Shah Mahmood Qureshi Twitter
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (L) and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi address a press conference in Islamabad. — Photo courtesy Shah Mahmood Qureshi Twitter

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Friday said that Pakistan needed to coexist with the Taliban and have a "realistic" approach towards the group.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab during the latter's two-day visit to Pakistan, the foreign minister was questioned on whether Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban would be "conditions-based".

Responding to this, Qureshi said the choices available must be considered before determining any conditions.

"Some have the choice of getting up and leaving but we do not. We are neighbours [and] we have to coexist. Geography ties us together so our approach [to the Taliban] has to be somewhat different [and] realistic," the foreign minister said.

FM Qureshi said Pakistan had certain "compulsions" in its affairs with Afghanistan that "perhaps you don't have to" such as daily border crossings of 20,000 to 25,000 people.

"Can we block them? No, we can't. Can we regulate them? Yes, we should. Are there risks? Yes, there are organisations there that are not friendly to you or us or anyone so we have to guard against that as well."

“The bulk of Afghanistan's trade passes through Pakistan so could the latter close its border with the former? Would Pakistan be contributing to any ensuing humanitarian crisis as a result?” the foreign minister questioned.

"If we have to trade with them then who do we talk to? Engaging with any authority who is in charge is a compulsion that we have to deal with.

"Recognising these challenges, Pakistan has said it is for Afghans to decide about their future. We will engage with a government that has the backing of the people of Afghanistan. Our focus is on and we want to help the people of Afghanistan because we feel they have suffered for decades and there is a real opportunity for peace after 40 years," said FM Qureshi.

He added that anyone advocating "peace and stability" from among the Taliban was a "friend" and "we will work with that reality". Qureshi said Pakistan was awaiting developments in the next few days with "eyes and ears open".

The foreign minister reiterated Pakistan's stance that it "had no favourites" in Afghanistan. He said Afghanistan comprised of different ethnic groups.

"That is why we have said as neighbours and wellwishers that it is in your (Afghanistan's) interest to adopt an inclusive approach," Qureshi said.

Similarly, on the UK's approach to the Taliban, Raab said: "The approach we are taking is that we don't recognise the Taliban as a government [...] but we do see the importance of being able to engage and have a direct line of communication, the reason being that there is a whole range of issues that need to be discussed including the question of safe passage of British nationals and the Afghans who worked for the UK government."

He noted that the Taliban had made a series of undertakings, "some of them are positive at the level of words" but there was a need to test whether they translated into deeds — which would not be possible if some channel of dialogue wasn't present.

The foreign secretary pointed to the British evacuations from Afghanistan, saying that over 15,000 people couldn't have been evacuated without "at least some measure of constructive dialogue with the Taliban".

When questioned what specifically he was expecting from the Taliban and if there was a danger of pushing them towards "embracing radical tendencies", Raab said some early tests needed to be set on the Taliban promises and whether they had the "sincerity and will" to deliver on them.

He stressed that there was a need to bring stronger basic consensus and forge a wider group of countries that agreed on issues such as an inclusive government, safe outward passage, no terrorist safe havens, continuation of humanitarian lifelines and a range of other issues.

Pakistan on UK travel red list

Among the discussions between the two, FM Qureshi said he had raised the issue of Pakistan being on the UK's travel red list and what was required to move it to the amber list.

The United Kingdom operates a "traffic light" system for international travel, with low-risk countries rated green for quarantine-free travel, medium risk countries rated amber, and red countries requiring arrivals to spend 10 days in isolation in a hotel.

"I'm happy there is a technical meeting that has been arranged on Monday. [Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health] Dr Faisal Sultan will be representing Pakistan and putting forward our point of view.

"I have also suggested a number of steps that can be taken to make both sides comfortable on how to deal [with] and overcome this challenge and get Pakistan into the amber list," FM Qureshi said.

Raab noted that he understood the impact of the issue on British and Pakistani nationals in response to a question on the strain it had placed on relations between the two countries and how they could be improved.

"I also commend the efforts of the Government of Pakistan to contain the pandemic [...] we understand this is a sensitive and difficult issue."

He explained the UK based its decisions on scientific and technical evidence and said Monday's meeting was a positive development.

"We want to find a way through. No one wants Pakistan off the red list more than I do but we take these decisions on a technical level. I think the smart thing for us to do is to work together to enable that to happen as soon, as safely and as responsibly as can be done," he said.

Both individuals expressed the interest to take UK-Pakistan relations to a higher level.

Among other topics in their meeting, Qureshi said he had also pointed out the steps taken by the government and the progress Pakistan had achieved in fulfilling the Financial Action Task Force's recommendations.

"Pakistan is very keen to get out of the grey list and we have taken concrete administrative and legislative steps that are being recognised today by the world. I have urged the foreign secretary to be supportive of Pakistan on the steps that we have taken," the foreign minister said.

FM Qureshi also pointed out that the issue of Indian-occupied Kashmir had indeed been discussed in response to a question. He said he highlighted how Indian security forces snatched the body of Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and treated his family.

Raab, meanwhile, reiterated the UK's position on the issue that it was for India and Pakistan to find a long-lasting political resolution. "We encourage both sides to maintain a constructive dialogue."

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