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ISLAMABAD: Chairman, High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah on Tuesday emphasized the importance of going beyond the "rhetoric and the usual conspiracy theories" for restoration of peace and strengthening Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral ties.

He was speaking at a public talk, organised by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), which was also addressed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Pakistan's Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq.

"I believe the negotiations are an important opportunity. Peace and prosperity in both Pakistan and Afghanistan are interdependent," Abdullah added.

"We need to go beyond the rhetoric and the usual conspiracy theories, as one cannot afford to pursue dissolution. It is now more urgent than ever to look towards our region as one. We need to take into account the current geo-political shifts and draw necessary lessons about our gains, losses, threats and opportunities," Dr Abdullah stated in his address.

He added, "We should aim to reduce tensions, promote moderation, increase regional connectivity, trade, transit, economic integration, business-to-business and more importantly, people-to-people interactions."

"The time is now to define a new vision, address outstanding issues as well as our shared interests and realize that peace and stability in Afghanistan or any country for that matter can have far reaching consequences and trickle effects," he added.

He pointed out that Pakistan and Afghanistan were at the threshold of a new era of bilateral relations based on mutual respect and shared prosperity. He said that he was visiting Pakistan at a time when delegations of both Afghan government and the Taliban were engaged in peace talks in Doha.

He acknowledged the constructive role played by Pakistan in the Afghan peace process, and also thanked the government and the people of Pakistan for continued support to the peace process. He also welcomed Prime Minister Imran Khan's statement about ending violence and working towards a ceasefire in Afghanistan as well as for a sovereign, independent and democratic future of Afghanistan.

"That's the road ahead for us, which is not an easy job," he said. To achieve this goal, he added that he and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had instructed its negotiation team in Doha to show patience with a view not to lose this opportunity of peace and nation building.

He also stated that Afghan soil would not be allowed to be used against any other country. About Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations, Dr Abdullah said that during his meetings with Pakistani leadership, both sides discussed practical issues, concerns and common interests and would continue to do so in the future.

He said that the two countries needed to pursue an enhanced interaction for strengthening mutual cooperation and enhancing bilateral ties, adding that both the countries and their people were facing common challenges.

In his address, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi assured Pakistan's complete support to the Afghan peace process. He categorically stated that Pakistan had no favorites in Afghanistan and it did not want to meddle in its internal affairs.

"Afghans and only Afghans can determine the future of Afghanistan. The road ahead is going to be bumpy; however, all sides will have to work for it, as the name of the game is patience," he added.

He added, "Pakistan respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan."

Qureshi said that it was important that the leadership of Pakistan and Afghanistan engaged and exchange views, frankly, honestly and in a candid manner.

"There should be particular focus on how to steer the peace process forward," he said.

He also emphasized on the need for greater collaboration between the two countries in different fields to build a common future. He pointed out that the timing of Dr Abdullah's visit was significant because it was taking place after a number of historic events.

He said that there was now a new international environment, which was supportive of a peace process. He said that it had been realised now over the years that there was no military solution to the Afghan conflict.

"Today there is recognition that a negotiated political settlement is the only and best way forward. Today, the reduction in violence leading to a ceasefire is a prerequisite for peace," the foreign minister added.

Pakistan's Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq stated that Dr Abdullah's visit was taking place at a time when there was progress in both the peace process, and the Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations, adding that both the tracks were mutually inclusive.

"In Afghanistan, violence has raged for decades and attaining peace is a Herculean task. Inclusive and broad-based political settlement is the only wise option," he said.

To negotiate peace, he said all sides would need to work diligently with a view to addressing all the issues including bumps that would come in the way of intra-Afghan negotiations.

"With Dr Abdullah in the saddle, the peace process is in safe hands," he added. Dr Abdullah Abdullah also held a meeting with Chairman Senate Mohammad Sadiq Sanjrani at the Parliament House, and discussed the ways and means to enhance parliamentary interaction, Afghan peace process, people-to-people contacts, economic connectivity, and bilateral trade cooperation.

Speaking to him, Sanjrani underlined the need to work together to foster the bond of friendship through deeper economic and political engagements. He called for increased parliamentary linkages, while highlighting the significance of parliamentary diplomacy, adding that high-level parliamentary interaction could be helpful in removing misperceptions and promote understanding on issues of mutual concern.

Dr Abdullah said that Pakistan was an important country for Afghanistan and it wanted to have stronger collaboration to boost trade and economic links and explore more avenues for mutual collaboration.

The chairman Senate also hosted a reception in honour of the visiting Afghan delegation, which was also attended by ministers, parliamentarians, and high-ranked government functionaries.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020