Ghani says Kabul wants strong engagements with Islamabad
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan and the Government of Pakistan will continue to support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process that remains the most viable option to end violence and promote stability in Afghanistan.
There was room for optimism as Afghanistan warmed up to Pakistan on Wednesday, the ice melting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani hinting at developing a strong engagement with Pakistan and possibility of a sustained dialogue with the country after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured him that for elected government in Afghanistan was the only legitimate authority in the country in accordance with its unanimously adopted Constitution.
Yet differences remained as the leaders spoke their heart out.“Your words today have gone a very long way to assure us in this regard and that opens up the possibility for sustained dialogue among us”, Ghani said while addressing the 5th Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in Islamabad Wednesday together with Nawaz Sharif.
Ghani expressed apprehensions and uncertainty, “Whether Pakistan would truly acknowledge a sovereign Afghan state with its legitimate government and Constitution.”
Nawaz Sharif opened the Ministerial Conference clearly stating that for Pakistan, Afghanistan was more than a neighbour, a sovereign state and the international community fully respected its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Militancy and the right mechanism to deal with future regional threats, respecting the sovereignty of regional states, principle of non-interference, and connectivity through trade was a recurring theme in the speeches of the leadership and also found its way to the Islamabad Declaration which was adopted on Wednesday.
At the outset, Ghani stated, “Nawaz and I both do not believe in blame games. We would like to suggest mechanisms of verification as to what type of actors threaten our common interests because with a proper regime of verification, we can fashion the instruments of cooperation.”
Ghani did not mince his words about non-state actors who he said had been used in the past and appealed participants to “distance ourselves from non-state actors because the word of states is the word of predictability.”
Nawaz appealed to Afghanistan’s neighbours, near and far, to help contain terrorists, as “Without rules of the game where states respect the rights and obligations of mutual sovereignty and cooperate in the states’ relationship we will have enormous difficulty containing terrorists.”
He specifically called for the finalisation of border management SoPs at the earliest, which would be helpful in containing movement of terrorists across the border.The prime minister also warned of the emergence of newer and more threatening terrorist groups like Daesh.
“We should envisage collective and coordinated measures on the regional security front to ensure that the gains in the struggle against terrorism are durable and irreversible”, he added.
Commenting on Pakistan’s military operation in the North to rid the country of militants, Ghani said that this had resulted in close to 350,000 to 500,000 Pakistani refugees entering Afghanistan.
He said that this was an unintended consequence for which, “There is no historical precedent for solving this problem. The quarrel of these people is not with the government of Afghanistan or its people. We are fighting on behalf of all of you. But we are the ones who are daily suffering some of the worst atrocities, including the butchering of our children and elderly who are totally innocent,” he said.
Over three million Afghan refugees inside Pakistan were also a subject raised at the conference and found mention in the Declaration.Nawaz Sharif in his opening remarks hinted that this was fast becoming an economic burden and security threat.
“We believe our efforts for long term stability in Afghanistan should envisage the return and resettlement of Afghan refugees to their homeland, in a dignified manner. Massive cross-border movement of refugees constitutes a security risk and is exploited by the miscreants for their nefarious designs”, he said.
Ghani responded by expressing gratitude to Pakistan for “hosting millions of Afghan refugees over decades”, and spoke about their dignified return but this would be possible if all threats that Afghanistan presently faced would recede.
The Declaration too asked Afghanistan to “facilitate this process in close cooperation with host countries”.“We urge the international community to provide adequate and sustained support and assistance including within the framework of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees to enable their voluntary, safe, and dignified repatriation and sustainable reintegration and resettlement in Afghanistan,” noted the Declaration.
Both Afghanistan and India pushed Pakistan to open its border for transit trade, a step that Pakistan’s security establishment is reluctant to agree to.“The heart of Asia cannot function if arteries are clogged.”Ghani said that Afghanistan’s ambitions projects for cooperation for transit and linkages to Pakistan had still remained at the level of conception and aspiration.“I hope this conference results in significant movement in this domain,” he said.
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