US should systematically withdraw from Afghanistan: FM Qureshi

The Nation  |  Jun 19, 2021

The US should withdraw systematically from Afghanistan to prevent what happened in the 1990s there from recurring, in the wake of Soviet forces' withdrawal, said FM Qureshi on Friday.

"If [the US] withdrawal is not systematic, we are concerned that Afghanistan may get sucked into the situation that we experienced in the 1990s, when there was anarchy, civil war, instability," Shah Mahmood Quresht stated. 

Qureshi said that the withdrawal – currently set to be finished by this Sept. 11 – should be carried out in a "responsible way."

"Afghans have paid the biggest price. Second to the Afghans are the Pakistanis. We lost 83,000 lives on account of terrorism. Our economy has suffered close to over $128 billion," he said.

Noting that Pakistan has hosted nearly 3 million Afghan refugees for four decades, he said they do not want another influx of refugees.

"We think it's time that they go back home with honor and dignity. And that can only happen if there's peace and stability in Afghanistan," he said.

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Underlining that Pakistan facilitated the peace process between the Taliban and the US for the Doha Peace Agreement, he said: "As far as peace in Afghanistan is concerned, my point is, and my contention is that this is a shared responsibility. Pakistan is already in its role, but it's basically the conciliation within Afghanistan."

Stressing that the ownership and the responsibility lie on the Afghan leadership, he said they have to sit together and decide on their future.

Pakistan can only facilitate the process, he said, adding that they cannot tell Afghanistan what to do as Afghanistan is a sovereign and independent country.

On Turkish forces taking over a security role in Afghanistan as the US withdraws from the country, he said Pakistan has always been very comfortable with Turkey.

"Whether it's Turkish forces, the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Turkish leadership. We have a very, very comfortable relationship," he said.

"Turkey is part of NATO. But NATO has decided to withdraw. (Turkish) President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan made a statement at the summit… I might get an opportunity to have a word with him over there to find out what is on his mind," he said.

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Pointing out that an Istanbul conference to discuss the Afghan peace process has been canceled, he said: "I would like to know how Turkey is foreseeing the future. Turkey is an important regional power. We hold meetings regularly."

About his meetings with the Turkish president and foreign minister, he said they would also discuss Islamophobia.

Underlining that Turkey and Pakistan have similar views on this issue, he said there is a rising trend of hate speech, discrimination, and targeting of Muslims in the West.

We collectively feel that we need to combat this growing menace, he said.

On bilateral relations with Turkey, Qureshi said the countries have "an excellent relationship based on trust and friendship, leading to an economic partnership in the future."

"We cooperate for a number of platforms. Turkey and Pakistan are very closely associated and work in harmony in the international foras, particularly at the UN, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and other forums. We have a good defense cooperation understanding and it is deepening with the passage of time," he said.

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We need to increase our economic footprint, promote bilateral trade, and also encourage investments, he urged.

"We have a new economic framework that was put into place when President Erdogan visited Pakistan last time. We have now this high-level consultation mechanism and the Prime Minister of Pakistan (Imran Khan) will be visiting Turkey for this issue," he added.

On the Gwadar port project in southern Pakistan, he said it will be the shortest route for landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asian republics to reach the sea.

"There is a huge potential for Gwadar to become a hub of economic activity," he said, inviting Turkish investors to invest in special economic zones that are being developed along the economic corridor.

The $64 billion mega-project signed in 2014 aims to connect China's strategically important northwestern Xinjiang province to the Gwadar port through a network of roads, railways, and pipelines to transport cargo, oil, and gas.

The economic corridor will not only provide China with cheaper access to Africa and Middle East but will also earn Pakistan billions of dollars for providing transit facilities to the world's second-largest economy.

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As for the ongoing conflict in Palestine, Qureshi thanked Turkey and the OIC for their leadership in the face of Israel's atrocities during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"There was a cease-fire announced, but that was the first step. What is required is initiating once again the peace process that has stalled for a long time," he said, adding that lasting peace in the Mideast can be achieved by a two-state formula.

An Egyptian-brokered truce that took effect in the early hours of May 21 ended Israel's 11-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Eleven days of Israeli attacks on Gaza and the West Bank killed at least 289 people, including women and children, and left behind a trail of destruction.

Health centers and media offices, as well as schools, were among the structures targeted.

FM Qureshi also decried India's 2019 removal of the articles of the constitution that ensured the protection of the demographic structure and special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Stressing that with this decision India violated the UN Security Council resolutions, international law, and the Geneva Convention, he said Pakistan considered the act "unilateral and illegal." Pakistan would go along with the wishes of the Kashmiri community, he said.

Stressing that the removed article 35A is related to the protection of the region’s demographic structure, he said: "We feel there is a design for demographic restructuring to convert this Muslim area, the only Muslim area in India, into a minority. India is under certain international obligations and India is violating those obligations."

Jammu and Kashmir has been on the UN agenda since 1948, with several resolutions by the General Assembly and UN Security Council urging that the people of the disputed territory be given the right to self-determination to determine their political future.

In August 2019, India ended the minimal autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir under Articles 370 and 35A of its Constitution after putting the region of around 12 million people under military siege and cutting off communications with the outside world.

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