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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Wednesday called for devising a long-term roadmap for Afghanistan to advance agenda of political engagement, economic integration, regional connectivity and exploring possibilities of forging fruitful collaboration with key international actors that can support the reconstruction and economic development efforts in the war-ravaged country.

The proposal was floated by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, while addressing the 2nd Ministerial Meeting of Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan, which was held in Tehran.

Besides, Foreign Minister Qureshi, the meeting was attended by foreign ministers of China, Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Qureshi said that political stability, economic sustainability; and counter-terrorism are critical in the Afghan context, adding that Afghanistan is transitioning to political stability and the expansion of the interim cabinet in Afghanistan is a step in the right direction.

“We have been highlighting the importance of a more inclusive approach to the interim setup in Kabul. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic society. Every community has a vital stake and role in the future of the country,” he stated, adding that for sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan, this reality must be respected and should be reflected in the political structure.

On the economic aspect, he said that it is crucial to achieve economic sustainability in Afghanistan.

He said that Afghanistan is experiencing a severe economic crisis for reasons, both internal and external.

Internally, he added that there has been severe drought for the last two years and the situation has been compounded by a high inflation rate.

Externally, following the Taliban takeover of Kabul, major donors have stopped funding the Afghan government, he added.

“We must remember that donors used to cater for roughly 70 percent of Afghanistan’s budget. The sudden withdrawal of foreign assistance has created a huge gap,” he said, adding that the banks are not operating normally.

He pointed out that estimates indicate that over 90 percent of the Afghan population could fall below the poverty line next year. Reportedly, the Afghan economy has already contracted by 30 percent, he added.

For its part, Qureshi added that Pakistan is trying its best to help stem the downslide. He said that Pakistan has continued to provide urgently needed food-stuff and medicines to Afghanistan.

He said that Pakistan is also facilitating provision of international humanitarian assistance by land and air. We have revised custom duties on Afghan products to facilitate imports from Afghanistan, he added.

He said that Pakistan appreciates bilateral assistance being extended by many countries to help achieve economic stability in Afghanistan, adding that Pakistan has welcomed pledges of more than $1.2 billion announced during the flash appeal by the UN.

“But we note that the pledges have not been converted into disbursements yet. The approaching winter is a complicating factor. Good intentions must be translated into practical actions to help the Afghans in dire need. It is equally important that Afghanistan is allowed access to its frozen assets to reverse the economic downturn,” he added.

“Our collective efforts can halt economic meltdown. An economic collapse will yield instability, conflict, and a refugee influx into neighbouring countries and onward to other regions,” he asserted.

He underscored that it is equally important that the rights of all Afghans are fully respected, adding that further steps are needed on reopening of schools, both for boys and girls.

He said that women have played a key role in the development of Afghan society.

Continued opportunities for them would enhance Afghanistan’s social and economic progress, he added.

Referring to his recent visit to Kabul, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that after his interaction with the leadership of the interim set up, he found them receptive to the international community’s key messages and core expectations.

“I underlined the importance of taking further steps to demonstrate their desire for constructive engagement with the international community to have an agreed path forward. It is essential to prevent renewed conflict and foil the designs of spoilers, both within and outside Afghanistan,” he added.

Qureshi also emphasised that all stakeholders must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, maintain positive engagement, and show solidarity with the Afghan people.

He suggested that there is a need to continue to convince the Taliban to take the next steps, while incentivising this process and to keep urging the international community to remain positively engaged and intensify provision of humanitarian assistance.

He also urged for enhanced mutual coordination on facilitation of humanitarian assistance to reach maximum number of Afghans and for ensuring more meaningful economic activity, individually and collectively, and also to aid the development process and help build a sustainable Afghan economy.

Qureshi also asked for sharing data on Covid-19 for a common policy on border crossings.

He also called for devising a longer-term roadmap to advance the agenda of political engagement, economic integration, and regional connectivity and to explore possibilities of forging fruitful collaboration with key international actors that can support the reconstruction and economic development efforts in Afghanistan.

“For all of us, failure is not an option!” he asked the foreign ministers of the participating countries.

He said that the recent attacks on mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar are a grim reminder of the challenges in the fight against terrorist elements.

“Terrorist organisations operating inside Afghanistan pose a threat to international peace and stability. It is important that we remain vigilant of terrorist entities working against return of peace to Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the Afghan interim government must ensure that there is no safe haven for such elements and that Afghan territory is not used to harm any country.

He hoped that the Taliban will take all necessary steps to meet the most important expectation of the international community, adding that the security concern alone will be a defining element for the quality of engagement between the Taliban and the world.

“We must support an Afghanistan that contributes positively to regional stability and promotes connectivity. We must do so while respecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, adding that our shared objective of a peaceful, united and prosperous Afghanistan will only materialise when we join hands and assist Afghanistan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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