Pakistan has vital stakes in stable Afghanistan: Sartaj Aziz

ISLAMABAD: Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Friday said Pakistan has a vital stake in peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“It goes without saying that without a stable Afghanistan, the security challenges facing Pakistan cannot be effectively addressed,” he said in his inaugural address at the 5th round of Pakistan-Afghanistan Dialogue organized by Regional Peace Institute (RPI).

Sartaj Aziz said, for Pakistan, the security situation in Afghanistan was a matter of serious concern, adding, “We have strongly condemned recent terrorist incidents in Afghanistan, particularly the 19 April terrorist attack in Kabul.”

He said since the Government of National Unity took charge in Afghanistan, Pakistan has made sincere efforts to forge a long-lasting relationship with Afghanistan.

“Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, during his visit to Kabul on May 12, 2015 accompanied by the military leadership, declared that the enemies of Afghanistan cannot be friends of Pakistan. He has personally remained engaged with the Afghan leadership to rebuild mutual trust and understanding with Afghanistan,” he added.

The Advisor recalled that on December 9, 2015, Pakistan hosted the fifth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process which reaffirmed the commitment of the participating and supporting countries as well as the associated international organizations for effective cooperation for combating security threats and promoting regional cooperation and connectivity.

“Pakistan has been engaged in sincere and consistent efforts for promoting peace and reconciliation through an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace. We believe that a politically negotiated settlement remains a viable option,” he added.

Sartaj Aziz said, “In 2015, we facilitated direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Murree. Unfortunately, the talks were scuttled.” Sartaj Aziz said the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China, has been making joint efforts for reviving direct talks between the Afghan Government and Taliban.

He, however, added that Taliban have not yet responded positively to these efforts but “we believe that QCG countries in line with their shared responsibility should continue efforts for peace talks.”

Sartaj Aziz said the Fifth Meeting of the QCG, held on May 18 in Islamabad, reaffirmed the commitment of all member states to the Afghan peace process and to continue efforts to revive direct peace talks.

“Pakistan along with other QCG members will continue to make serious efforts in this regard,” he added.

The Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs highlighted some of the challenges faced in the quest for peace and stability in Afghanistan. He said, “We believe that there is a need for a more unified and coherent messaging from Kabul in favour of peace and reconciliation with Taliban.”

Sartaj Aziz said prolonged political instability in Afghanistan had created a fertile ground for foreign meddling after 9/11, adding, many different militant groups have become increasingly dominant in the security landscape with growing insurgency in different parts of Afghanistan.

The announcement of the death of Mullah Omar in July 2015 not only scuttled the Afghan peace process, it also led to the splintering of the Taliban, he added.

The Advisor said negative statements about Pakistan emanating from Afghanistan tend to impede the constructive bilateral engagement. “Pakistan as a policy has continued to show restraint in responding to such negative remarks,” he added.

He said, vested interests have often tried to create a perception that Pakistan actually controls the Taliban. “Such an impression breeds unrealistic expectations from Pakistan. The mistrust between the two countries has also affected on the efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he added.

Sartaj Aziz said the return of Afghan refugees was also a major challenge in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.

“Over three million Afghan refugees are present in Pakistan. Besides being a continuing economic burden, refugee camps have also become a security concern as they provide sanctuary to terrorists and insurgents.”

“We have a tripartite agreement between Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR, which is constantly reviewed. Pakistan is faithfully implementing this agreement,” he added.

He said long porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan was frequently used by miscreants including terrorists, militants, human and drug traffickers and criminals.

For effective counter terrorism, border controls to regulate the movements across the border was vital. “We look forward to positive response from the Afghan government to our proposals for effective border management,” he added.

Highlighting the way forward, Sartaj Aziz said, “Without reconciliation, peace cannot return to Afghanistan. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) is an appropriate forum to pave the way for the Afghan peace process. The immediate goal is cessation of violence. The QCG can play a key role in achieving this goal. However, the process leading to that goal needs patience and time.”

“There is a need for wide ranging discussion between Pakistan and Afghanistan at all levels, government, intelligentsia, civil society and media. This would help to restore trust and strengthen bilateral relations. We are ready to engage,” he added.

Sartaj Aziz robust institutional interaction at political, military-to-military and intelligence level were needed to put the relationship on an even keel and restore trust and confidence.

“Regional cooperation through infrastructure and energy connectivity will also help realize the goal of shared prosperity of both the countries.

To this end, infrastructure, communications, road and rail links are essential. We believe that the dream of an inter-connected and economically integrated region cannot be realized without a peaceful Afghanistan,” he added.

The Advisor reiterated Pakistan’s unequivocal support to efforts aimed at bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan through intra-Afghan dialogue and reconciliation.

However, he added, the long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan required that there was synchronization of efforts by Afghanistan, neighboring and regional countries as well as broader international community including the United States, Russia, China, EU and other major players.

“Pakistan supports these efforts and is keen to play a facilitative role for bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan. A stable, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest. We have been and will continue to make our sincere contribution to this objective,” he concluded.- APP