Ladies and Gentlemen,
Assalam-o-Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah,
I welcome you all to Pakistan, which is your second home.
It is a pleasure to have with us prominent Afghan political figures and religious leaders.
This distinguished gathering not only represents the broad spectrum of the political and religious landscape, but also has an important role in shaping public opinion and paving the way for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Let me also thank former Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad and appreciate this effort by the Lahore Centre for Peace Research in initiating this important process of peace-building.
Events like these provide an opportunity to exchange views and create better understanding of the Afghan perspective from cross-sections of the society.
Afghanistan and Pakistan enjoy centuries-old fraternal ties.
Our two peoples are tied together through immutable bonds of geography, history, faith, kinship, and linguistic and cultural affinities.
Indeed, there are no two other countries in the region, or the world, that have so much in common.
Pakistans role in helping the Afghan nation reclaim its sovereignty after foreign occupation in 1979 and hosting of millions of Afghan refugees for over four decades remains a testimony to the closeness as well as the sense of duty our people feel towards our Afghan brothers and sisters.
Pakistans perspective on Afghanistan is clear.
We support an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself, and at peace with its neighbours.
We respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan.
We remain firmly committed to a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan.
We are determined to build our bilateral relationship on the principles of non-interference, mutual respect and common interest.
The decades-long conflict has brought huge suffering to both the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
After the Afghan nation, no one has suffered more than the people of Pakistan due to this persistent instability and conflict.
Pakistans security continues to be deeply influenced by the security situation in Afghanistan.
Advancing the cause of peace and stability in Afghanistan is, therefore, in Pakistans own national interest.
Let this be absolutely clear: No one in Pakistan subscribes to any notion of so-called strategic depth in Afghanistan.
We must not let anyone resurrect this dead horse to advance their propagandistic aims or seek to sow the seeds of misunderstanding between us and our Afghan brethren.
We wish to see a friendly Afghanistan, governed by an elected leadership, representative of the aspirations of all Afghans.
For far too long, the vicious circle of mistrust, often fed into by our common enemies, has affected our relationship.
The blame-game has not helped either of us.
It is indispensible to move away from this negative paradigm.
It is incumbent upon the leadership of the two countries to take practical steps to build mutual trust and confidence.
We must not allow our respective territories to be used by anyone to the detriment of our interests.
We must also remain vigilant of the other forces that wish to create misunderstandings and divisions between us.
We must not allow them to harm our brotherly relations.
We both have the same objective of long-term peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region.
If there is, at times, variance in approaches, it must not be construed as difference in objectives.
I will illustrate this with one example: While others believed in a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, we always thought that a politically negotiated settlement was the only way forward.
It is gratifying to note that others have also reached the same conclusion now.
Pakistan has whole-heartedly facilitated the Afghan peace process in good faith and as a shared responsibility and will continue playing its due role.
Our support has been crucial in overcoming the political stalemate that looked impossible to break just a year ago.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has for long been personally committed to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
My first visit after assuming office again in August 2018 was to Kabul. I have since visited Kabul three times.
I also visited other regional countries including China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE in an effort to build regional consensus on the ongoing peace process.
While efforts of all stakeholders are important, we do believe that the ultimate arbiters of the future of Afghanistan are only the Afghans themselves.
We appreciate the progress achieved by Afghanistan over the past 18 years despite enormous challenges. It is critically important to preserve those gains and in fact, build on these achievements.
Strengthening of democratic institutions in Afghanistan and progress on human rights, particularly women empowerment, are praise-worthy.
Pakistan will continue to deepen its engagement with all sections of the Afghan society and their representatives in further cementing these achievements, as per expectations of the people of Afghanistan.
In addition to playing our role in the peace process, Pakistan also remains committed to the Afghan reconstruction and development efforts, post-settlement.
We stand ready to help Afghanistan through trade, investment, connectivity and capacity-building of the Afghan people.
We are committed to enhancing people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges.
We also wish to work with Afghanistan, and the world community, to help create conditions that enable dignified, safe and voluntary return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan.
Today, Afghanistan is at the cross-roads of peace and stability.
The renewed push for peace has created a new opportunity and every effort must be made to seize it. We cannot afford to miss this rare opportunity.
Let me conclude by reiterating Pakistans unshakable resolve to support peace, stability and long-term prosperity of Afghanistan and appreciating your respective contributions toward that end.
It is the leadership of the country that can steer it out of conflict and put it on the path of stability and prosperity.
This is a test of the wisdom and sagacity of everyone involved.
The people of Afghanistan are looking towards their leaders including all those present here, with the hope for a better future, a future that they so earnestly deserve.
I thank you all for being part of this endeavour for the peace and stability of Afghanistan.