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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Monday, confirmed “complications” in fencing Pakistan-Afghan border following Afghan Taliban dismantled some portions of the barbed wire on the border claiming to have been erected “illegally” and hoped that the issue would be resolved through diplomatic channels with the Taliban interim government.

Speaking at a news conference to present year-end review of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Qureshi stated that Afghanistan is a friendly and neighbouring country, adding that Pakistan is engaged with the interim government on the issue and the “complications” would be resolved through diplomatic channels.

“We are not silent [on the issue]. We have erected the fence and we would continue to do so. Some people are trying to raise the issue unnecessarily, which we believe is not in Pakistan’s interest. But we would protect our interest,” Qureshi said in response to a question when his attention was diverted over the situation on the Pakistan-Afghan border over the last few days where reports are coming from various parts of Taliban soldiers engaging in dismantling the border fence.

Last month, Afghan Defence Ministry spokesperson Enayatullah Khwarazmi had confirmed to a foreign news agency that Taliban forces stopped the Pakistani military from erecting what he called an “illegal” border fence along Nangarhar province on December 19, 2021.

Presenting the 2021 year-end review of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Qureshi said Pakistan proactively and consistently advanced its diplomatic objectives on a range of diplomatic fronts, both bilaterally and multilaterally during the last year with a focus on economic diplomacy.

In line with the government’s policy to focus on geo-economics, he added that economic diplomacy has assumed high priority in the conduct of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

He said that the effort to promote and expand our trade and investment portfolio across the world together with steps taken at various levels at home have led to “concrete achievements” over the year.

He maintained that due to the efforts, Pakistan’s position improved by 39 points in Pakistan’s ranking in the ease of doing business; seven percent increase in trade with Africa; improvement by 59 points in Pakistan’s Business Confidence Ranking; US$ 2.9 billion deposited in 299,000 accounts across 175 countries in Roshan Digital Accounts; US$ 2 billion invested in Naya Pakistan certificates; 24.1 percent increase on home remittances to a record high of US$ 18.7 billion (during 8 months of FY 2020-21); and an increase of over US$ 2 billion in the export of information technology and information technology-enabled sectors.

“We will continue to build upon these initiatives to consolidate economic gains in the years ahead,” he added. Terming the year 2021, significant, Qureshi stated that Pakistan has consolidated friendships and further strengthened bilateral relations with major powers and key partners across the regions, adding that the country successfully and effectively put forward our perspective and narrative on major foreign policy issues including Jammu and Kashmir dispute and the situation in Afghanistan.

During the last year, he added that Pakistan had 85 bilateral exchanges with over 50 countries. There were 35 senior leadership visits to Pakistan, 32 senior leadership visits by Pakistan, over 50 high-level multilateral engagements, 25 public diplomacy engagements at Foreign Minister-level and 20 economic diplomacy engagements, he added.

He said that five Pakistan sponsored or cosponsored resolutions were adopted by the United Nations, adding that 70-year celebrations were held with six countries. He said that Pakistan played an important facilitating role for peace in Afghanistan and then for evacuation of foreigners from Kabul. Reiterating commitment for such a role in future, he said Pakistan has pledged Rs5billion humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people.

He said the OIC countries also agreed on provision of humanitarian assistance to the Afghans in the recently-held OIC Council of Foreign Ministers conference in Islamabad on December 19, 2021. Regarding digital diplomacy, he said all 114 Missions abroad have been brought online on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram enabling greater transparency and access.

Within the region, Pakistan extended anti-pandemic medical equipment and other assistance to SAARC Member States including Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Maldives under SAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fund. He said the SAARC secretary-general visited Pakistan last week and Pakistan reaffirmed its willingness to host the most-awaited 19th SAARC Summit.

The foreign minister regretted that the prospects of durable peace and stability in our region, and the great potential for economic development and regional cooperation have been held hostage by the hegemonic and hostile behaviour of India. “SAARC is an important forum and Pakistan understands its effectiveness. We are ready to host the 19th SAARC summit. No matter if India is not willing to participate, it can also attend it virtually. But it should [India] not stop the others [countries] to attend,” he added.

With the United States, Qureshi added that Pakistan remains committed to the longstanding relationship with and looks forward to expanding it as a broad-based mutually-beneficial partnership. To this end, Qureshi added that he held bilateral talks with Secretary Blinken in New York.

He stated that energy and climate change dialogues were initiated in September 2021. “We also saw the resumption of US Congressional visits to Pakistan, as well as the visit of a bipartisan Senate delegation in December last year,” he added.

He said that Pakistan’s exports to the US rose by 39 percent to cross the $5 billion mark for the first time. As a result of the government’s efforts, he added that Pakistan was included in Amazon’s Seller’s List.

He added that the US supported Pakistan’s Covid-19 response through the provision of 27.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines. We also maintained close engagement on Afghanistan, he added.

About relations with Saudi Arabia, he said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia signed seven MoUs/ Agreements including the MoU to operationalise Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council (SPSCC).

He said that Pakistan’s exports to and remittances from Saudi Arabia and the UAE grew, and a record number of manpower was exported to Qatar in 2021. He said that Kuwait eased visa restrictions for Pakistani nationals and under the bilateral agreement on recruitment of healthcare professionals, around 1,800 personnel from Pakistan reached Kuwait.

About ties with China, he said, 2021 marked an important milestone in Pakistan-China friendship, as the two countries celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in a befitting manner with over 140 events and activities held across Pakistan and China.

He pointed out that during the first 10 months, Pakistan’s exports to China reached to US$ 2.85 billion, marking a 77 percent increase, adding that China remained the major foreign direct investor during the year.

With Russia, he said that there was growing warmth and strengthening of relations, adding that bilateral trade increased by 20 percent during the first 10 months. We also maintained close engagement on Afghanistan, he added.

Speaking in the context of relations with India and other neighbours, he said that Pakistan desires friendly relations with all its neighbours including India. “But as the prime minister has said, the onus is on India to take necessary steps to create an environment conducive for dialogue. Resolution of Jammu and Kashmir dispute is a prerequisite for durable peace and stability in South Asia,” he said.

Regrettably, amid the worsening situation in the IIOJK, the persecution of Kashmiri people and leaders has continued unabated and almost the entire Kashmiri leadership is either detained or under house arrest on trumped-up charges.

With Bangladesh, he stated that Pakistan deeply values its ties and looks forward to fortifying the existing bonds, building new ones and working together for a better future for our peoples and the two countries.

During the year, Prime Minister Imran Khan extended an invitation to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to visit Pakistan, who while accepting the invitation has also invited Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit Bangladesh.

With Sri Lanka, he stated that PM Khan’s visit to Sri Lanka in February last year provided fresh impetus to existing bilateral relations, with renewed leadership level interactions. Organization of Trade and Investment Conference, a Sports Diplomacy event, signing of various MoUs on trade and investment, science and technology, tourism, and cultural exchanges, extension of US$ 50 million Defence Credit Line facility, Rs52 million sports assistance, establishment of Asian Civilization and Culture Centre, and 100 MBBS/BDS scholarships for Sri Lankan students were also announced during the visit, he added.

He further stated that Pakistan pursued active diplomatic outreach to the Central Asian Republics during the year.

With East Asian countries, he said that engagement with East Asian partners continued under Vision East Asia policy. He said that Pakistan also held various political dialogues with Korea, Japan, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand.

Qureshi stated that sustained interaction continued with the European partners, adding that he also co-chaired the 6th Round of Pakistan-EU Strategic Dialogue in Brussels, which adopted a comprehensive Joint Communiqué.

He said that there were incoming foreign ministerial visits from Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, the UK, and Denmark.

Bilateral Political Consultations/ Dialogue were held with Norway, EU, Switzerland, Italy, besides the inauguration of Hungary-Pakistan Trade and Economic Window (HPTEW) and the first Hungary-Pakistan Business Forum during the year, he added.

To a question about the democratic system in the country, Qureshi said that it was strengthening as the democratic setups were replacing each other after the completion of their tenures in the government through a democratic transition. “We hope that the current government would complete its five-year constitutional terms as did by PPP and PML-N,” he hoped.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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