Thursday Sep 16 2021

Pakistan focused on averting internal conflict, humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan: Qureshi

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (left) speaks during an interview with Geo News at Dushanbe, on September 16, 2021. — Photo by author
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (left) speaks during an interview with Geo News at Dushanbe, on September 16, 2021. — Photo by author

  • FM Qureshi says immediate challenge averting humanitarian crisis.
  • Pakistan is assessing the interim government before it makes a decision on recognising the Taliban government, he says.
  • "Pakistan helped more than 13,000 people evacuate from Afghanistan," foreign minister adds.

DUSHANBE: Pakistan's current focus is on averting internal conflict and a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Thursday.

In an exclusive interview with Geo News, Qureshi said that Pakistan is assessing the interim government before it makes a decision on recognising the Taliban government and consultations in this regard are underway.

"We are monitoring to see what is being done on the inclusion of various groups in the government," he said. 

The foreign minister said that Pakistan's first challenge was to facilitate evacuation of people from Afghanistan, and it succeeded in evacuating more than 13,000 people from the war-torn country.

"Our next challenge is to save Afghanistan from internal conflict and a humanitarian crisis," he said.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, in a meeting earlier today with Minister for Interior Sheikh Rasheed, expressed gratitude to the Pakistani government for providing security and visa facilities to UN staff members.

According to Grandi, even before the Taliban took over last month, more than 18 million Afghans, or about half the population, required humanitarian aid.

More than 3.5 million Afghans were already displaced in a country that is battling drought and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Poverty and hunger have spiralled since the Taliban takeover, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an international aid conference this week that Afghans are facing "perhaps their most perilous hour".

Donors at the conference pledged more than $1.1 billion to help Afghanistan.

Furthermore, Afghanistan's banks are running out of dollars and may have to close their doors to customers unless the Taliban government releases funds soon, three people with direct knowledge of the matter had told Reuters.

The cash squeeze threatens to upend the country's already battered economy, largely dependent on hundreds of millions of dollars shipped by the United States to the central bank in Kabul that make their way to Afghans through banks.

Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Pakistan aims to facilitate efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan, as it would benefit the entire region.

Talking about the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Council (SCO) — where he is present along with Prime Minister Imran Khan and other top officials — he said that Pakistan had already made a strategy with the council on Afghanistan.

He said the foreign ministers of China, Russia, and Pakistan had an important meeting today, where they had mulled over who was responsible for Afghanistan's situation and what the way forward was now.

The foreign minister said PM Imran Khan had met government officials from China and Kazakhstan, where he had informed them about Pakistan's stance on Afghanistan.

Speaking about his four-nation tour to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran, last month, Qureshi said that he had taken up the issue of Afghanistan with the officials of all the said states.

Pakistan to respond 'positively', if TTP does

Speaking of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the foreign minister said the interim Afghan government had declared an end to the war, and thus, the TTP should review its policies. "Our issue with TTP is that they targeted innocent, unarmed citizens."

The TTP should think about its future, keeping in mind its past actions, Qureshi said, adding: "If the TTP responds in a positive manner, so will Pakistan."

"But if they respond negatively, we will deal with them as we have before."

The foreign minister said Pakistan had time and again informed the ousted Afghan president Ashraf Ghani about TTP's presence in Afghanistan and its involvement in terrorist activities, but his regime did not take action against them.

However, the incumbent government has provided assurances that Afghan soil would not be used against any country, including Pakistan, the foreign minister noted.

'India should not worry about Pakistan'

The foreign minister said he had no scheduled meeting with his Indian counterpart and ruled out the possibility of any meetings with him.

India should not worry about Pakistan, he said, adding: "Pakistan is talking about peace and stability in Afghanistan. Does India aspire for anarchy in Afghanistan?"

"Does India wish to continue its role as a spoiler [to peace in Afghanistan]?" he further asked.

The foreign minister urged India to review its policies, noting that Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) and India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had made efforts to destablise Pakistan.

"This hurt Pakistan, but did it help in stabilising the region?" he asked.

PM Imran Khan at SCO

Meanwhile, PM Minister Imran Khan held several meetings today with foreign leaders during his visit to the Tajikistan capital, where he arrived to attend the 20th SCO Council of Heads of State (SCO-CHS).

Among these, included a meeting with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said.

According to the statement, the two leaders discussed mutual efforts for strengthening of Pakistan-Belarus relations and exchanged views on regional and international issues.

The two leaders also exchanged views on the situation in Afghanistan.

The prime minister underscored that as a country most affected by conflict and instability in Afghanistan for over 40 years, Pakistan had a vital interest in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

The prime minister stressed that the international community "must stand by the Afghan people, help avert a humanitarian crisis, and take steps to stabilise the economy". He reiterated Pakistan’s full support to efforts for stabilisation of Afghanistan and hoped that the international community will also play a positive role in this regard.

Engage with Taliban: PM Imran Khan

A day earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that in order to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan, the world should "engage with the Taliban" and they should also be "incentivised" on issues such as inclusive government and women's rights.

The premier was interviewed by CNN at his Bani Gala residence in Islamabad, during which he spoke about the situation in Afghanistan, the role of Pakistan in fostering regional peace, and the country's relationship with the United States.

'We have our limitations'

Qureshi, a day earlier, rejected the notion of Pakistan building refugee camps or resettlement processing facilities for the people coming from Afghanistan.

Instead, he said, Pakistan would continue to facilitate the departure of those with valid documents who wished to exit Afghanistan via Pakistan — drawing the line at allowing an influx of refugees.

In an interview with The Independent, Qureshi said Pakistani authorities would consider formal requests “on merit” from the UK for British representation in their embassy in Kabul to help with applications.

Qureshi said there had been “no rush” on Pakistan’s borders, and stressed that there was no need for people to flee Afghanistan as the country was “peaceful and stable”.