Afghanistan is more than a neighbour for Pakistan, Nawaz tells Ghani

  • Finalisation of border management SoPs will help check movement of terrorists across border, says Nawaz
  • Ghani invites armed groups to surrender weapons and become part of political process
  • Recent events in Pakistan have forced Afghanistan to host 350,000-500,000 Pakistani refugees, says Ghani

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for collective and coordinated measures on the regional front to ensure irreversible successes in the war on terror.

While inaugurating the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process Ministerial conference in Islamabad on Wednesday morning, along with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the prime minister said the emergence of new terror groups such as Da’ish should strengthen our resolve against terrorism and ensure that gains in the struggle against the menace are durable.

Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan has demonstrated an unflinching resolve to wipe out terrorists from its soil. The consensus based military operation and the National Action Plan have been delivering results and successful in coping with terrorism and extremism.

He quoted great philosopher poet Allama Iqbal who described Afghanistan as the Heart of Asia and a pivot for peace, stability and prosperity for the entire region. In keeping with this vision, he said Pakistan attaches great importance to the Heart of Asia conference as a forum for sustainable peace through development in Afghanistan, our region and beyond.

He said the theme of this conference “enhanced cooperation for countering security threats and promoting connectivity in the heart of Asia region” reflects our desire for promoting regional development, increasing economic and trade linkages and meeting security challenges.

Nawaz Sharif said Afghanistan is more than a neighbour for Pakistan as both the countries have historic cultural and religious affinities.

“During the past half a century, external interventions have seriously eroded peace, stability and socio-political cohesion of the Afghan society. It is important that efforts for durable peace and stability should hinge upon respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and the inherent values of Afghan society,” the prime minister said.

The prime minister said that Pakistan will always stand by Afghanistan. He said that the international community respects the sovereignty and integrity of Afghanistan. He said that the democratically elected government in Afghanistan is the legitimate authority in the country. He said that the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan and the government will continue to support an Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process that remains the most viable option to promote stability and end violence.

Nawaz Sharif called upon the international community to extend full support for Afghan peace efforts.

“It is our firm belief that a robust and meaningful reconciliation process owned and led by Afghans, is vital for long term peace and stability in Afghanistan. I would like to reiterate Pakistan’s commitment and desire to facilitate the resumption of the stalled reconciliation process. In this regard, Pakistan is ready to extend support to a meaningful process, wherein both the Afghan Government and the Taliban can move forward, in a spirit of accommodation and reconciliation,” he said.

The prime minister deeply appreciated the support from all friendly countries for the Afghan reconciliation process.

“We believe that the association of China and the US in the reconciliation process has been instrumental in moving the process forward. Pakistan looks forward to continued engagement in achieving positive results in the reconciliation process,” he stressed.

He said the finalisation of border management SoPs between Pakistan and Afghanistan will help in checking movement of terrorists across the border. He said our efforts for long-term stability in Afghanistan envisage the return of Afghan refugees to their homeland in a dignified manner.  He said massive cross border movement of Afghan refugees constitutes a security risk, which has been exploited by the miscreants for their nefarious designs.

The prime minister said Pakistan is pursuing the policy of peaceful neighbourhood, as peace is vital for development and stability.

“Working for the achievement of a peaceful neighbourhood is a cardinal principle of Pakistan’s foreign policy. We firmly believe that peace is vital for development and development is vital for durable peace. Adhering to these principles, Pakistan remains committed to strengthening its relations with all its neighbours and regional countries, as well as promoting regional cooperation and connectivity,” he emphasised.

In his remarks on the occasion, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appreciated Pakistan for launching operation Zarb-e-Azb against the terrorists. He said his country desires strong people-to-people contacts with Pakistan for further strengthening of relations and mutual trust. He thanked Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees on its territory over the last many decades.

Ashraf Ghani pointed out that TAPI is a very important regional energy project, which will soon be inaugurated in Turkmenistan. CASA 100 project will also bring the people of the region closer together.

Ashraf Ghani said terrorism is a common problem of Pakistan and Afghanistan as both the countries have suffered immensely in the war against this menace and there is a need to evolve a mechanism to identify terrorist abettors. He said the responsibility rests with the entire international community to combat terrorism and violent extremism. He said we should avoid blame game and evolve a multidimensional strategy for peace.

“Unfortunately, recent events in Pakistan have forced us to host close to 350,000 to 500,000 Pakistani refugees on our soil. The refugee issue is a common issue, like other issues that confront us,” Ghani said.

He presented a run-down of the part Afghanistan played to establish regional cooperation in 2015, including TAPI, CASA1000 that would pass through Afghanistan and said the country is rapidly moving towards regional integration towards Central Asia, East Asia and West Asia.”

“By contrast, our ambitious projects of cooperation for transit and linkages to Pakistan have still remained at the level of conception and aspiration. I hope this conference results in significant movement in this domain.”

He said 36 per cent of Afghans live below the poverty line of $1.25. If the line were $2, he said, almost 70pc of Afghans would be below it.

“Poverty elimination is our most significant goal and I’m convinced that regional cooperation could allow us to have the types of growth that can help tackle the most fundamental weakness, the poverty and exclusion of women, youth and the poor.”

Speaking of the political transition in Afghanistan, he said, “We took the unusual step of forming a government of national unity.”

“We have learned from 300 years of discord that politics must become a win-win formula, not a lose-lose proposition and that is an important part of the new political culture.

“As part of this again I strongly reiterate our commitment to lasting and just peace within which all movements that resort to arms convert themselves to political parties and participate in the political process legitimately,” he said.

“Violence is not the way in a democratic society,” Ghani asserted.

The Afghan president also invited the armed groups to surrender weapons and become part of political process.