Distinguished Foreign Minister of Turkey,
Honorable Acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan,
Ladies and Gentlemen !
Let me begin by commending the two co-Chairs on convening this important Conference. My special thanks to the brotherly government of Turkey for its warm hospitality and immaculate preparations. It is also delightful to be back in this beautiful, and enchanting, city of Istanbul, where East meets West.
It is heartening that the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, launched here in Istanbul in 2011 jointly by Turkey and Afghanistan, has become a vital part of multilateral mechanisms on Afghanistan. Evolving rapidly, it has gained strength in a short span of time.
As we move forward, I am confident that we will achieve our shared goal of a secure and stable Afghanistan, which remains crucial for the economic progress and prosperity of the region.
Afghanistan’s importance has been best underscored by the poet of the East, Allama Mohammad Iqbal, who said and I quote, “Asia is a body built of clay and water and Afghanistan is a heart in that body. If there will be peace in Afghanistan then there will be peace in Asia. If there will be turmoil in Afghanistan, then there will be turmoil in Asia” (Unquote). Allama Iqbal’s illustration of Afghanistan remains as true today as it was more than 100 years ago.
Within the international fraternity, no other nation can claim to have as strong and historic bonds with Afghanistan as Pakistan does. Also, there is no country that is more desirous of enduring peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan than Pakistan.
Besides the immutable bonds of geography, common faith, and cultural and linguistic affinities, we have other vitally important linkages. Pakistan remains Afghanistan’s largest trade and economic partner. We continue to host more than 3 million Afghan refugees for the last four decades and are committed to their safe and dignified voluntary return. More than a million Afghans cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border annually.
Naturally, such close links also raise challenges for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some of these include:
Spillover of insecurity in Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Nexus between drug trafficking and terrorist groups.
Lack of progress in realizing regional connectivity projects.
Notwithstanding the challenges, deepening Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan in all fields remains our highest priority. Our endeavor is to enhance trade and economic ties, facilitate people-to-people contacts, and increase regional connectivity. The opening of Torkham crossing-point on 24/7 basis is part of this vision and clearly aimed at supporting Afghanistan in its efforts for peace and progress.
Pakistan has committed over US$1 billion in development assistance for Afghanistan in the sectors of education, health, reconstruction and infrastructure development across Afghanistan. The Afghanistan–Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) offers a useful platform to both countries to address all issues of mutual interest and concern within an institutional framework. The next meeting of APPAPS will be held in Kabul in the near future.
In the regional context, we hosted the third China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue in Islamabad on 7 September 2019. This trilateral format has helped deepen the interaction amongst us. Within a few months, we have conducted a joint Junior Diplomats’ Training Course at the Foreign Service Academy in Islamabad, an U-19 Cricket Tournament, and a trilateral Counter-Terrorism Workshop in Beijing.
On peace and reconciliation, Pakistan remains fully committed to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process. It is gratifying that the international community has finally vindicated Pakistan’s long-held stance — as we always stressed that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The only solution, in our view, lay in a negotiated political settlement. A military-focused approach simply exacerbated the miseries of the common Afghans. Within this perspective of peaceful resolution, we wholeheartedly supported and facilitated the U.S.-Taliban talks.
Pakistan also supported the efforts for the release of Professors Kevin King and Timothy Weeks, and we are pleased that they are finally safe and reunited with their families.
While we were concerned at the temporary hiatus in U.S.-Taliban talks, Pakistan has warmly welcomed President Trump’s statements on pursuing a political settlement in Afghanistan, including through the resumption of dialogue with the Taliban. Recent resumption of these talks is a positive development which will help in establishing enduring peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.
We wish to see the peace process lead to inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations. Pakistan will continue to work with all sides, and regional and international partners, in promoting a political solution that satisfactorily addresses the concerns and interests of all Afghans.
At the same time, we must remain cautious about role of “spoilers” in view of their vested interests. The existing, broad regional and international consensus in favour of achieving peace in Afghanistan through a political settlement is an unprecedented opportunity. It must be seized!
The thematic focus of this Conference — “Peace, Partnership, Prosperity” — is most apt, as in our view, these three conditions are indispensable for sustainable peace, security and stability in Afghanistan. It is equally important to recognize that these are mutually-dependent as well as mutually-reinforcing. There can be no peace without prosperity, and there can be no prosperity without partnership!
We must all join hands to advance these objectives for the sake of Afghanistan and the region. We should also focus on prioritizing physical connectivity through transport, communications and energy projects as well as simplification of practices, regulations, legislation and agreements in the areas of trade and transit to facilitate the flow of goods and services.
I conclude my remarks with the hope that Afghanistan moves forward on the path to peace and stability, which will require a spirit of cooperation and constructive engagement.
The Joint Declaration, the Working Guidelines and the Implementation Plan of the seven CBMs are all comprehensive documents — reflecting the commitment of the Partner Countries, Supporting Countries, and International Organizations. We appreciate the hard work that has gone into finalizing them.
I am pleased to share that Pakistan, being the lead country in the Agriculture Cooperation CBM, will host its Regional Technical Group meeting within the first quarter of 2020.
Let us all continue to move together to achieve our shared objectives of peace, progress and prosperity in Afghanistan.