SAMARKAND: Foreign ministers of Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran held a meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, to ponder over the evolving situation in Afghanistan while expressing concerns over some of the actions taken by the interim Taliban government in Kabul.
As the top diplomats from Pakistan, China, Russia, and Iran attended the second quadrilateral group meeting on Afghanistan, the Pakistani side was represented by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar.
Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi also attended the meeting on Thursday where some countries voiced their concerns over the Taliban’s move of banning girls’ education and failure in tackling terrorist groups.
Addressing the huddle, Hina Rabbani Khar said “We are meeting at a critical juncture. Afghanistan currently faces multiple and mutually reinforcing challenges. The humanitarian situation in the country remains grim, with a staggering 28 million people – over 2/3rd of the population, requiring urgent humanitarian assistance to survive.”
“The menace of terrorism continues to blight the lives of Afghan people on a daily basis. The threat posed by terrorist organisations to the neighbouring states and the region has accentuated,” she pointed out.
The minister said that at a time when the Afghan people needed the international community the most, “we see the world moving away”, closing doors on the common Afghan citizens.
Following is the text of Hina Rabbani Khar’s statement:
“H.E Mr. Bakhtiyar Saidov,
Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan,
Foreign Ministers of the Neighbouring Countries of Afghanistan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to represent Pakistan at the 4th Ministerial meeting of the Neighbours of Afghanistan Format, being convened in this beautiful and historic city of Samarkand, today.
Let me also convey our deep gratitude to the Government of Uzbekistan, in particular to Foreign Minister Bakhtiyar Saidov, for the generous hospitality and the immaculate arrangements made for this meeting.
The Neighbours format is grounded in the firm conviction that our region is not only bound by a shared past, but also a common future; our destinies are intertwined, our fortunes interlinked.
Guided by these deep-rooted historical and cultural ties, it is but natural that we place such high premium on promoting regional approaches to the situation in Afghanistan.
From Islamabad to Tehran, and from Tunxi to Samarkand, a common thread that weaves us together, is our collective commitment to work towards a peaceful, stable and interconnected Afghanistan.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are meeting at a critical juncture. Afghanistan currently faces multiple and mutually reinforcing challenges: the humanitarian situation in the country remains grim, with a staggering 28 million people – over 2/3rd of the population, requiring urgent humanitarian assistance to survive.
The menace of terrorism continues to blight the lives of Afghan people on a daily basis. The threat posed by terrorist organizations to the neighbouring states and the region, has accentuated.
Meanwhile, the Afghan economy continues to operate under the shadow of sanctions and billions of dollars of frozen assets.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries, in particular, Pakistan. There are indications that these numbers may swell in the coming days, creating fresh challenges for the neighbouring countries and the host communities.
At a time when the Afghan people need the international community the most, we see the world moving away, closing doors on the common Afghan citizens.
Growing voices, especially in the West are advocating a complete break from Afghanistan, to offload its problems to the neighborhood and to walk away.
There are clear indications that humanitarian support to Afghanistan will see a significant decline this year. Some are even questioning the utility of engaging the Interim Afghan Government.
We believe that these approaches are misplaced and need to be re-assessed: we must not repeat the mistakes – abandoning the people of Afghanistan is always a bad choice.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Regrettably, some of the policies and actions of the Interim Afghan Government, have not helped either.
The decision to suspend education for women and girls and to prevent them from working for national and international NGOs, is regrettable, not only that it deprives the enterprising Afghan women and girls their rightful opportunities to progress and advance, and to secure gainful employment, but also restrains the helping hand of many friends and well-wishers of Afghanistan.
Pakistan has voiced its disappointment with this decision. We believe the right to education is not a favour to women, to be dispensed at will; it is a fundamental human right, as enshrined in our noble religion, and the teaching of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
We also believe that more needs to be done to eradicate the foothold of terrorist organizations from Afghanistan, without distinction and in a concerted and uniform manner. Greater cooperation and coordination with the Interim Afghan Government remains critical. We look forward to working closely with the neighbouring states and the international community to this end.
Progress towards the goal of promoting greater political inclusivity in Afghanistan, remains a critical priority.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The international community currently finds itself in a ‘standstill’ with Afghanistan. The ‘cascade’ of unmet expectations, has meant that critical support needed by Afghanistan to stave-off a grave humanitarian crisis, prevent an economic meltdown and to combat terrorism, has been withheld.
This policy needs an urgent reset; what is required is ‘patience’ and ‘reciprocity’ – the international community should continue to engage with the Interim Afghan Government to take next steps; we need to be flexible; this process should be appropriately incentivized.
We need a ‘balanced’ approach based on simultaneous commitments from both sides – a spirit of solidarity and cooperation should underpin international engagement with Afghanistan.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in everyone’s interest. Continued conflict and instability threaten not only Afghanistan and its people but carries adverse implications for the region and beyond. Therefore, we, Afghanistan’s neighbours, all have a vested interest and stake in seeing peace and stability return to Afghanistan.
Pakistan believes that our collective efforts should be guided by the following elements:
One, unity of purpose and a synergy of effort within the region remains imperative. We should not only continue to hold regular consultations but also evolve common strategies and shared perspectives on Afghanistan. Pakistan believes that the three Working Groups, on the political and diplomatic, economic and humanitarian and security and stability dimensions, established during our last meeting, provide a useful framework to follow-up on the decisions taken during our meetings, and should be fully operationalized.
Two, connectivity has remained a pipe-dream for far too long. This must change – we must turn this ‘constraint’ into a conduit for regional peace and prosperity. Every big dream has a humble origin – we must adopt a step-by-step approach, identifying projects, consolidating and implementing them, as critical building blocs for a common vision for regional connectivity. Connectivity projects such as CASA-1000, Trans-Afghan Railways, TAPI and others, are not merely economic undertakings, they are also strategic investments in our shared future – an effective counterpoise to the threat of terrorism, drug trafficking and other challenges confronting Afghanistan. As a first step, a dedicated ‘Connectivity Fund’ to provide priority financing for these projects should be considered.
Three, Pakistan firmly believes that humanitarian support should remain delinked from any political considerations. The common Afghan people should not be made victims of political choices made by others. Continued and sustained humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan must therefore, be ensured. The international community should also remain cognizant of the pressing needs of the neighbouring countries, hosting millions of Afghan refugees. This is a collective responsibility of the international community; it should be borne collectively.
Four, beyond the confines of humanitarian assistance, we should focus on generating economic activity within Afghanistan to ensure a sustainable future, avoid economic meltdown and prevent exodus of refugees. Exploring realistic pathways towards unfreezing Afghanistan’s financial assets would be a key first step. A roadmap for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan is equally important. Since peace and stability is a strategic imperative for the region, we, as key stakeholders in a stable Afghanistan, should remain at the forefront of this effort.
Five, we should devise a roadmap of cooperation with the Afghan authorities based on a ‘hierarchy of priorities’, especially where the Interim Afghan Government has shown a commitment to act. We particularly welcome the renewed emphasis placed during this meeting on strengthening counter-terrorism cooperation between Afghanistan and the neighboring countries. Training and capacity building programmes in other avenues should also be devised.
Six, greater coordination between regional and international efforts on Afghanistan remain equally important. As representative voice of over 1.8 billion Muslims across the world, the OIC enjoys a unique stature and standing within Afghanistan unmatched by other international organizations. The OIC has taken a number of initiatives including establishment of the Humanitarian Trust Fund and the Afghan Food Security programme. Building synergies with the OIC, including the OIC Trust Fund, would amplify our collective efforts to help and assist the Afghan people.
Seven, we cannot talk of the Afghan people without talking to them. Constructive engagement with the Interim Afghan Government remains imperative. As friends and neighbours, we don’t have the luxury to disengage with Afghanistan.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The neighboring countries process was initiated by us in Islamabad, with the firm resolve that we would not be held back by what went wrong in the past; we would instead, script a forward-looking vision for peace and prosperity, learning from our mistakes but not becoming a prisoner to them.
For us as the neighbors of Afghanistan, this platform is not a ‘talk-shop’ but instead, a mechanism for concrete and result-oriented action – a harbinger of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region.
We look forward to working closely with the neighboring countries to this end.
I thank you.”