Pakistan supports Afghanistan that is at peace with itself: FM

Pakistan supports Afghanistan that is at peace with itself: FM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Rahnuma):  A 57-member Afghan delegation arrived in Pakistan to attend a two-day peace conference in the hill station of Bhurban, Murree on Saturday.

The meeting, titled the “Lahore Process,” is being led by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

For years, Pakistan has been accused of seeing Afghanistan in terms of “strategic depth,” meaning that in the event of war with India, Pakistani forces could withdraw over its western border into Afghanistan to regroup and fight back from there.

“Let this be absolutely clear: No one in Pakistan subscribes to any notion of so-called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan,” Qureshi said in the opening address.

“We support an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and with its neighbors,” he added, reiterating his government’s determination to help its neighbor find a negotiable solution to a war against Taliban insurgents that is in its 17th year.

The peace conference in Bhurban is an initiative of the Lahore Center for Peace and Research (LCPR) co-organized and moderated by the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute. Delegates representing 18 political parties and groups, including Pakistani government officials and experts, are participating.

Discussions on viable paths to peace and stability in Afghanistan, trade, the economy, health, women’s empowerment, reconstruction, development, and regional connectivity are on the agenda.

“We must not allow other forces to create differences between us,” Qureshi said, in a veiled reference to India.

Qureshi stressed Pakistan’s role in providing refuge to millions of Afghan refugees, and said “no one” had suffered more than Pakistan post 9/11.

Representatives of the Afghan Taliban, the principal stakeholders in the Afghan war, and Afghan officials from President Ashraf Ghani’s government, did not attend the Bhurban meeting, but the Afghan President is expected to visit Islamabad on June 27 at the invitation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

When asked how the peace process would reach its conclusion without the participation of the Taliban, Pakistani and Afghan delegates told Arab News that discussions were just a preliminary step.

“It is the first step to share ideas to support the efforts and try to evolve,” Shamshad Ahmed Khan, LCPR chairman and a former diplomat, said.

Responding to a question from Arab News, Qureshi said: “The time to move forward has come and the fact that 57 delegates have traveled all the way to Bhurban is an acknowledgement of a new beginning and of a new process.”

“There are a number of processes going on at a time. One cannot replace the other, but one can complement the other,” Qureshi added, highlighting the many peace talks that have taken place this year, Including in Doha and Moscow.

Rustum Shah, former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, told Arab News: “These talks will not yield anything concrete or tangible, but it is important to note that the Taliban are participating in several forums and have been recognized as principal stakeholders.”

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