ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Friday described the Taliban control over Kabul as the “new reality” and said Pakistan has no option but to work with the group in power in Afghanistan.
“Who do we talk to? Anyone who is in charge. Engaging with that authority is a compulsion,” the foreign minister said at a press conference at Foreign Office after his meeting with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is visiting Pakistan for discussion on the developments in Afghanistan.
He expressed these views while responding to a question about the conditions that would determine Pakistan government’s future ties with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
After the collapse of Ashraf Ghani government on Aug 15, the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul. The group is in the process of forming a government. The international community has been demanding an inclusive government representing all ethnicities living in Afghanistan and has linked the recognition of the new government to the fulfilment of this demand.
The foreign minister said Pakistan, which shares a 2,600-km-long border with Afghanistan, has to pursue a different approach towards the western neighbour. “We don’t have the choice of getting up and leaving. We have to co-exist. Our geography ties us together. Our approach, therefore, has to be somewhat different,” he explained.
British foreign secretary says UK & Pakistan have very clear, shared interest in Afghanistan’s future
While describing the Taliban control over Kabul as the “new reality”, Mr Qureshi pointed to high frequency of travel between the two country and Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan for external trade as the compulsions for maintaining a working relationship.
Pakistan has kept its diplomatic missions in Afghanistan open after the fall of the Ghani government. “Our focus is on the people of Afghanistan and we want to help the people of Afghanistan,” he said, adding that there was a “real opportunity” for peace after four decades of instability and violence.
British Foreign Secretary Raab said: “We do not recognise the Taliban as a government, but we do see the importance of engaging and having direct line of communication with them.”
One of the most pressing issues facing the British government with regard to Afghanistan is the evacuation of its nationals and those who had worked with it. “We need to be able to convey direct messages on this,” Mr Raab said.
The UK has evacuated nearly 15,000 people from Afghanistan since Aug 15. Mr Raab said this was made possible through a “constructive dialogue” with the Taliban following the takeover of Kabul.
Taliban, he said, made a number of commitments during the dialogue with the British officials and their sincerity about fulfilling their commitments had “to be verified”.
As the UK has doubled its aid budget for Afghanistan to 286 million pounds, the foreign secretary said the money would not be put in the hands of the Taliban but would be disbursed through humanitarian groups working inside Afghanistan. He said 30 million pounds from this money would go to Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan, for meeting the basic requirements of Afghans that may go there.
‘Early test’ for Taliban
The British foreign secretary asked the Taliban to provide a “permissive environment” for the aid agencies to work in Afghanistan saying, “it’s an early test” for them.
“No one wants the social and economic fabric of Afghanistan to collapse,” he asserted.
Mr Raab urged the international community to maintain a “strong consensus” on the need for inclusive government, safe passage for those wanting to leave, no safe havens for terrorists, and continuation of humanitarian lifeline.
“If we can come together in that way, all of those who want a positive way forward, we will be able to exercise maximum positive and moderating influence on Taliban,” he maintained.
The two sides also reviewed state of bilateral relations at the meeting.
“In the context of bilateral relations, it was agreed that the strong Pakistan-UK bilateral relations must be further expanded, especially in the economic and trade spheres,” the FO said in a statement, adding that the two sides reaffirmed the resolve to upgrade the relationship from the current Enhanced Strategic Dialogue to the next level.
Mr Qureshi demanded a reconsideration of the British government’s decision to keep Pakistan on the ‘Red List’ for travel that required people coming from there to hotel quarantine.
At the meeting, he also highlighted the progress made by Pakistan in the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) action plan and expressed the hope that no attempt would be allowed to politicize the process.
“The basis for the UK-Pakistan relationship is very strong — and the UK has the desire to take it to the next level. We also have a very clear and shared interest in the future of Afghanistan. We will judge the Taliban by their actions, not their words,” Mr Raab declared.
Calls on premier
Later, Mr Raab called on Prime Minister Imran Khan.
At the meeting, Mr Khan underscored the need for stabilising the security situation in Afghanistan, taking steps to consolidate peace, and precluding any mass exodus. Preventing humanitarian crisis and stabilizing the economy were the urgent needs, he said.
He urged the international community to stand in solidarity with the Afghan people, undertake positive engagement, and create incentives for ensuring a peaceful, stable and inclusive polity.
Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2021