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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, on Monday, confirmed the recent visit of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief, William Burns, to Pakistan, saying that it was aimed at discussing the Afghan peace process and counterterrorism.

Talking to reporters, the foreign minister stated that the CIA director did visit Pakistan and held a meeting with his counterpart – director general, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Faiz Hameed.

“We’re fully aware of the visit [of the CIA chief] to Pakistan and he met with his counterpart,” Qureshi said in response to a question.

About the purpose of the visit, he said it had a “clear” agenda – the Afghan peace process and counterterrorism.

The statement comes amid speculations that the US is looking for bases from where it could gather intelligence and continue counterterrorism strikes after the completion of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, as New York Times reported on June 6 that that the CIA director had travelled to Pakistan for a meeting with Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed “to explore the possibility of counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries”.

To a question, Foreign Minister Qureshi expressed concerns over speedy withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, adding that 60 percent of foreign troops had already been pulled out.

Qureshi said that as per his interaction with the Afghan officials in Turkey, the withdrawal of the foreign forces might be completed before the deadline of September 11, 2021.

“The progress in the dialogue process is not going with the same pace with which withdrawal of the foreign forces is continuing, which is worrisome,” he said, adding Pakistan wanted that withdrawal of the foreign forces and peace process occurred in tandem.

He also made it clear that peace in Afghanistan was a shared responsibility of all stakeholders, adding the responsibility could not be shifted on Pakistan in case there was no progress in the peace talks.

“This is not Pakistan sitting on the table, but the Afghans. The decision about their future and the reconciliation has to be taken by the Afghans themselves,” he said, adding those sitting in the government were Afghans and the Taliban were also from among the Afghans.

Qureshi stated with concerns that he could see Afghanistan as a “divided house”, adding that during his recent interactions with the Afghan government officials and the High Peace Council they did not seem focused in their approaches and they lack unanimity.

“We are also concerned about the situation as unrest in Afghanistan will adversely impact Afghanistan and beyond,” he said, adding Pakistan was already hosting three million refugees and uncertain situation in Afghanistan would start a new influx of refugees into the country.

The foreign minister stressed the need for making intra-Afghan dialogue a success to ensure regional peace and stability, adding Pakistan would do what it could for facilitating the process.

However, he added that although the peace process was ongoing but there had been a stalemate towards any progress.

He said peace in Afghanistan was important for Pakistan to achieve its dream of regional connectivity.

Qureshi further said he urged the Afghan leadership to trust in Pakistan and its institutions.

“This time, we have to be partners in peace…I’m saying this with sincerity, if you [Ashraf Ghani] are going to the US and say the same old manta in which we have been entangled since long, it would neither be beneficial for Afghanistan nor for the region,” Qureshi said, in reference to the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani’s visit to the US, where he was scheduled to meet President Joe Biden.

In response to another question, Qureshi said that neither was he the Taliban’s spokesperson nor their lawyer.

“I am only Pakistan’s foreign minister,” he said, adding his recent response to the Afghan National Security Adviser (NSA) was as a Pakistani to his anti-Pakistan approach.

“The Afghan NSA’s statement did not benefit his country…Pakistan has always tried to persuade the Taliban to negotiate,” he said, adding any setup in Afghanistan which would come through the use of force would not be acceptable.

Referring to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 24 all-party conference, the foreign minister termed this as “unusual”, saying Kashmiri leadership in the occupied valley had rejected Modi’s proposal.

“The meeting is a hidden indicator that points out how everything is not all right [in India],” he added.

About the travel restrictions by the UAE, he said that progress had been made in talks with the UAE authorities, adding that he was hopeful to hear a “good news” in July.

Earlier, the foreign minister was briefed by officials of the National Institute of Health (NIH) about the vaccination facility for the foreign diplomats, and he was informed that so far, 632 foreign diplomats have been vaccinated against the Covid-19 in the facility.

On the occasion, Qureshi said the World Health Organisation (WHO) had acknowledged the Chinese vaccine and rest of the world should also review their position with regard to the Chinese vaccine.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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