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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Friday, explained Pakistan’s “realistic” approach and compulsion, to have relations with future Taliban government, as his British counterpart Dominic Raab insisted that the UK does not recognise the Taliban as a government but hinted at engaging with them.

The two foreign ministers explained their respective countries approaches towards the future Taliban government in Afghanistan, after they held bilateral talks here at the Foreign Office, in which, the duo exchanged views on the evolving situation in Afghanistan, and the bilateral relations.

“When we determine conditions, we have to determine choices available. Some have the choice of getting up and leaving, [but] we don’t have that choice. We are neighbours. We have to coexist. Geography ties us together, so our approach has to be somewhat different and realistic. As the foreign secretary [Raab] said “there is a new reality”,” Qureshi said, when asked about Pakistan’s conditions for having relationship with the Taliban’s future government in Afghanistan.

He reiterated that Pakistan has no favourites in Afghanistan, saying it is a country comprising different ethnic groups – Taliban represent one and a prominent one.

“That’s why we have said [to the Taliban], as a neighbour and a well-wisher, that it is in your interest to have an inclusive approach,” Qureshi said.

Britain in talks with Taliban over safe passage of remaining nationals

“When we are dealing with Afghanistan, please do not forget that there are certain compulsions that we have to deal with that, perhaps you don’t have to. For example, there are daily border crossings of 20,000 to 25,000 people in normal times. That’s a huge number. Can we block them? No, we can’t. Can we regulate them? Yes, we should. Are there risks? Yes, there are [terror] organisations over there that are not friendly to you or us or anyone. So, we have to guard against that as well,” the foreign minister explained.

He pointed out that the bulk of Afghanistan’s trade passes through Pakistan.

“Do we keep our borders open? Can we close them? And if we do close them… Are we contributing to a humanitarian crisis over there [Afghanistan],” he said.

He added: “If we have to trade with them [Afghanistan] then who do we talk to? Anyone who is in charge. Engaging with that authority is a compulsion that we have to deal with. So, recognising these challenges, Pakistan has said it is for the Afghans to decide about their future. We will engage with a government that has the backing of the people of Afghanistan. Our focus is on the people of Afghanistan and we want to help the people of Afghanistan because we feel they have suffered for decades and we honestly feel that there is a real opportunity for peace after 40 years.”

He further explained that if anyone within Taliban who is advocating peace and stability is a friend, “we will work with that reality”.

“We are waiting to see what happens in the next few days with eyes and ears open,” Qureshi added.

He said that Pakistan was in close contact with regional and international partners, stressing the safety and security as well as protection of the rights of all Afghans and an inclusive political settlement.

He underscored that in light of changed reality in Afghanistan, the world community had to take a pragmatic and a practical approach.

It is essential to stay engaged in order to support the people of Afghanistan, economically and to help rebuild.

The urgent priority, the foreign minister emphasised, should be to address the dire humanitarian needs and to ensure economic stability.

This was indispensable for preventing any exodus of refugees, he added.

He highlighted that Pakistan had facilitated evacuation of over 12,000 people, which included diplomatic personnel and staff of international organisations and others.

Giving the British government’s approach, Secretary Raab said: “We need to face up to new realities in Afghanistan…The approach we’ve taken is that we don’t recognise the Taliban as a government.”

“Actually, UK does not engage in practice of recognising governments as opposed to states. But we do see the importance of being able to engage and have a direct line of communication, the reason being that there is a whole range of issues that needs to be discussed including the question of safe passage of British nationals and the Afghans who worked for the UK government,” he added.

He pointed out that the Taliban had made a series of undertakings, some of them are “positive” at the level of words, “but there is a need to test whether they are translated into deeds, which would not be possible, if some channel of dialogue wasn’t present.”

Defending the policy of dialogue with the Taliban, he said that over 15,000 people couldn’t have been evacuated to the UK without at least some measure of constructive dialogue with the Taliban.

Pakistan needs to have 'realistic approach' to Taliban: Qureshi

“Some early tests needed to be set on the Taliban promises and whether they had the sincerity and the will to deliver on them,” Raab said, when asked what specifically the British government was expecting from the Taliban and if there was a danger of pushing them towards embracing radical tendencies.

He emphasised that there is a need to bring stronger basic consensus and forge a wider group of countries that agreed on issues such as an inclusive government, safe outward passage, no terrorist safe havens, continuation of humanitarian lifelines, and a range of other issues.

When his comments were sought on the speed with which the Taliban took over Afghanistan, he said: “The takeover, I think it’s fair to say, was faster than anyone anticipated, not just the United Kingdom or NATO allies, but I was talking with our friends here. And I suspect the Taliban and ordinary Afghans were taken by surprise. I think there was a common widespread surprise at the speed with which the consolidation of power happened.”

Secretary Raab announced that his country is releasing 30 million pounds of life saving support to Afghanistan’s neighbours including Pakistan.

He said the aim is to provide shelter, household necessities and sanitation to the fleeing Afghans. “We have also increased our aid budget for Afghanistan this year to 286 million pounds,” he added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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