Says no one should come between Pakistan and Afghanistan
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi opened the Afghanistan Peace Conference in Bhurban on Saturday by saying that Pakistan has been deeply influenced by the security situation in Afghanistan and that peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan's own national interest.
The conference is being hosted by the Lahore Center for Peace and Research and has brought together senior politicians and leaders from Afghanistan.
"Let this be absolutely clear, no one in Pakistan subscribes to the notion of so called strategic depth in Afghanistan and we cannot let anyone resurrect this dead horse to advance their own gains or sow seeds of misunderstanding between us and our Afghan brethren," he said. The minister said Pakistan wants to see a friendly Afghanistan governed by elected leadership that is representative of the aspirations of all Afghans.
"For too long, the vicious circle of mistrust has been fed into by our common enemies and has effected our relationship. The blame game has not helped either," he said. He added that it is incumbent on the leadership of both countries to take practical steps to build trust and confidence.
We cannot let anyone use our territories to the detriment of peace and security, he said, explaining that it forces misunderstandings. Qureshi urged the Afghan leaders not to allow anyone to harm their relationship with Pakistan.
We want long-term peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region, he said. "There may be variants in approach but those should not be pursued as difference in objectives," he cautioned, reminding them that when others believed in a military solution, this government knew that a politically negotiated settlement was the only way forward.
Pakistan has facilitated the Afghan peace process in good faith and as a shared responsibility and will continue to do so, he said, adding that Pakistan's support has been crucial in overcoming the political stalemate in the country.
Qureshi reiterated that Prime Minister Imran Khan is committed to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. My first visit after assuming office was to Kabul and I have visited three times since then, he said.
While the efforts of all stakeholders are important, the outward arbiters of the future of Afghanistan are only the Afghans themselves, he said, adding that Pakistan appreciated the progress achieved by Afghanistan over the past 18 years despite the enormous challenges it faced.
We must preserve those gains and build on the achievements, he said, advising Afghanistan to focus on strengthening its institutions and human rights. He said their focus on women empowerment was praiseworthy.
Qureshi also said that Pakistan is ready to support Afghanistan in its reconstruction and development efforts and is ready to help in the fields of trade, investment, connectivity and capacity building. We also want people to people contact and cultural exchanges, he said. But more importantly, he said Pakistan is looking for the dignified, safe and warranted return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan. Pakistan is currently hosting over two million refugees, most of whom are from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is at the crossroads of peace and stability, said the minister, adding that this renewed push for peace has created a new opportunity and efforts must be made to seize it. "We cannot afford to miss it," he warned.
He also said that good leadership can steer the country out of conflict and put it on path of progress and stability. This is a test of the wisdom and sagacity of everyone involved, he said, adding that the people of Afghanistan are looking to their leaders for the future they rightly deserve.