Reiterating Pakistan's unshakable resolve to support peace, stability and long-term prosperity of Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi Saturday expressed Islamabad's readiness to help Kabul through trade, investment and connectivity. Speaking at the inaugural session of the Afghan peace conference titled "Lahore Process" in Bhurban, Murree, Qureshi said that Pakistan has wholeheartedly facilitated the Afghan peace process in good faith and as a shared responsibility and will continue playing its due role.
"Our support has been crucial in overcoming the political stalemate that looked impossible to break just a year ago," he told the audience that included various senior Afghan politicians, prominently Chief Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former Afghan interior minister and presidential candidate Hanif Atmar and senior members of the Afghan High Peace Council. While efforts of all the stakeholders are important, he said, Pakistan does believe that the ultimate arbiters of the future of Afghanistan are only the Afghans themselves. He also appreciated the progress achieved by Afghanistan over the past 18 years despite enormous challenges, adding that it is critically important to preserve those gains and in fact, build on these achievements.
He said that strengthening of democratic institutions in Afghanistan and progress on human rights, particularly women empowerment, are praiseworthy, adding that Pakistan will continue to deepen its engagement with all the sections of the Afghan society and their representatives in further cementing these achievements, as per expectations of the people of Afghanistan.
"In addition to playing our role in the peace process, Pakistan also remains committed to the Afghan reconstruction and development efforts, post-settlement. We stand ready to help Afghanistan through trade, investment, connectivity and capacity-building of the Afghan people," Qureshi said, adding that Pakistan is also committed to enhancing people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges.
"Today, Afghanistan is at the cross-roads of peace and stability. The renewed push for peace has created a new opportunity and every effort must be made to seize it. We cannot afford to miss this rare opportunity," he added.
He also reiterated Pakistan's unshakable resolve to support peace, stability and long-term prosperity of Afghanistan and also appreciated Afghan leaders' contributions towards that end.
"It is the leadership of the country that can steer it out of conflict and put it on the path of stability and prosperity. This is a test of the wisdom and sagacity of everyone involved," he said, adding that the people of Afghanistan are looking towards their leaders including all those present here, with the hope for a better future, a future that they so earnestly deserve.
About the Afghan refugees, the foreign minister said that Pakistan desires to work with Afghanistan and the world community to help create conditions that enable dignified, safe and voluntary return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan.
Qureshi said that Pakistan and Afghanistan enjoy centuries-old fraternal ties and the people of the two countries are tied together through immutable bonds of geography, history, faith, kinship, and linguistic and cultural affinities.
"Indeed, there are no two other countries in the region or the world that have so much in common," he pointed out, adding that Pakistan's role in helping the Afghan nation reclaim its sovereignty after foreign occupation in 1979 and hosting of millions of Afghan refugees for over four decades remain a testimony to the closeness as well as the sense of duty our people feel towards our Afghan brothers and sisters.
Qureshi said that Pakistan's perspective on Afghanistan is clear, adding: "We support an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbours."
"We respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan...We remain firmly committed to a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan," the foreign minister asserted.
"Let this be absolutely clear: no one in Pakistan subscribes to any notion of so-called 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan...We must not let anyone resurrect this dead horse to advance their propagandistic aims or seek to sow the seeds of misunderstanding between us and our Afghan brethren," Qureshi further asserted.
He said that Pakistan is determined to build its bilateral relationship on the principles of non-interference, mutual respect and common interest.
He pointed out that the decades-long conflict has brought huge suffering to both the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. After the Afghan nation, no one has suffered more than the people of Pakistan due to this persistent instability and conflict, he added.
"Pakistan's security continues to be deeply influenced by the security situation in Afghanistan," he said, adding that advancing the cause of peace and stability in Afghanistan is, therefore, in Pakistan's own national interest.
He said that Pakistan wished to see a friendly Afghanistan, governed by an elected leadership, representative of the aspirations of all Afghans. "Far too long, the vicious circle of mistrust, often fed into by our common enemies, has affected our relationship," he added.
Referring to the blame game and accusation and counter-accusation, he said that the blame game has not helped either country, adding that it is indispensable to move away from the negative paradigm.
He emphasised that it is incumbent upon the leadership of the two countries to take practical steps to build mutual trust and confidence.
"We must not allow our respective territories to be used by anyone to the detriment of our interests," he said, adding, "We must also remain vigilant of the other forces that wish to create misunderstandings and divisions between us...we must not allow them to harm our brotherly relations," he further told the audience, adding that both the countries have the same objective of long-term peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region.
However, he said if there is, at times, variance in approaches, it must not be construed as difference in objectives. Talking to media persons on the occasion, senior Afghan politician and former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar appreciated the government of Pakistan for providing them the platform to discuss the Afghan peace and its efforts to end the decades old conflict in Afghanistan.
"We support all the initiatives aimed at restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan. This war should come to an end now," he said, adding that Pakistan can play an important role to pave the way for the peace in Afghanistan. "I believe that Pakistan has adopted the path which goes to the peace in Afghanistan. We are thankful to Pakistan and Zalmay Khalilzad [US representative for Afghanistan reconciliation] also believes that Pakistan is facilitating the process of mediation."
Former Afghan interior minister and presidential candidate Hanif Atmar also appreciated the efforts for inviting many key Afghan leaders to the moot and also lauded Pakistan's government's commitment to support of the intra-Afghan negotiations.
"Firstly, there is a need to have intra-Afghan negotiations. The second step will be the discussion to agree on the future of the government in Afghanistan where all Afghans participate and own the system. This is the goal which has to be achieved through an intra-Afghan negotiation," he asserted.