The foreign ministers of Pakistan and the United Kingdom on Friday said that the two countries “shared interest” in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
However, they appeared to have divergent views on how to achieve the goal.
The Afghan situation was on top of the agenda during the maiden visit by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to Islamabad where he held formal talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi. He also called on Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Raab is the latest top Western diplomat to have visited Islamabad following a flurry of trips undertaken by other European officials after the fall of Kabul in the wake of a chaotic exit of the US-led foreign forces from the war-ravaged country.
Pakistan is keen to see the international community remains engaged with the new set-up in Afghanistan and help rebuild the country destroyed by wars that had been lingering for over four decades; however, the Western countries, including the UK, are reluctant to do that.
Although Foreign Minister Qureshi and Foreign Secretary Raab spoke about the shared objective of peace and stability in Afghanistan at a joint news conference, their approaches to achieve that goal seemed to be different.
Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s stance urging the world community to work with the Afghan Taliban, but the UK’s top diplomat, who earlier undertook a visit to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at Torkham, said his country “doesn’t recognise the Taliban government”.
"The approach we're taking is that we don't recognise the Taliban as a government," he said, adding that Britain normally recognised states rather than governments. "We do see the importance of being able to engage and having a direct line of communication."
Raab's comments reflect the balance countries such as Britain and the United States are seeking to strike in the aftermath of the Taliban's lightning victory and the collapse of the Western-backed government in Kabul.
“No one wants to see the economic and social fabric of Afghanistan collapse,” said the British foreign secretary but he was quick to add that the UK wanted to work with humanitarian agencies, rather than “the Taliban”, to help.
Before flying to Pakistan, Raab was in Doha where he clearly stated that the UK would not recognise the Taliban government. On Friday, the EU along with Britain and the US also announced that they would deal with the Taliban but won’t recognise them as the Afghan government.
“The Taliban have made a series of undertakings – some of them are positive at the level of words. [But] we need to test them and see if this translates into deeds. It is important at this stage to set or to judge the Taliban by these early, initial and probably, quite modest, tests and see whether they deliver.”
The stance may be at variance with Pakistan’s position, which wanted the Western powers to take a more pragmatic approach. At the news conference, Qureshi underscored that in the light of the changed reality in Afghanistan, the world community had to take a pragmatic and practical approach.
“It is essential to stay engaged in order to support the people of Afghanistan, economically and to help them rebuild,” Qureshi said, according to a readout issued by the Foreign Office following Qureshi’s meeting with Raab.
“The urgent priority,” the foreign minister emphasised, “should be to address the dire humanitarian needs and to ensure economic stability.” “This is indispensable for preventing any exodus of refugees.”
Along with other European countries, the UK also fears the influx of Afghan refugees. But instead of accepting the new immigrants, the Western countries are encouraging Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan, to share the burden in return for financial assistance.
uring the news conference, Raab said the UK had allocated £30 million in aid to the bordering countries. The foreign secretary said the UK would be “supporting those countries that face greatest demands from those who may be displaced in the weeks ahead”.
Of the £30 million in aid offered to the neighbouring countries, Raab said £10 million would be made available immediately to the humanitarian organisations in order to get supplies to Afghanistan’s borders.
Countries predicted to experience a significant increase in refugees will also receive £20 million to help with processing new arrivals and to provide essential services and supplies. Pakistan has so far refused to accept new Afghan refugees.
Pakistan insists that it does not have the resources to accommodate fresh arrivals. Instead, Islamabad is urging the international community to continue to support Afghanistan, so that the situation in the country stabilises and people there do not need to flee.
One of the objectives of the British foreign secretary’s visit was to seek Pakistan’s help in securing the safe passage for the British nationals, who are still in Afghanistan and those Afghans who worked for the UK during the 20-year US-led war.
Since the Hamid Karzai International Airport is no longer operational, Pakistan provides key land routes for anyone who wants to leave Afghanistan. Qureshi highlighted that Pakistan had facilitated evacuation of over 12,000 people, which included diplomats and staff of international organisations and others.
The foreign minister also raised the issue of egregious human rights violations in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), including the dastardly act of snatching of human remains of Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Reiterating concerns over Pakistan’s retention on the UK’s ‘Red List’ for travel, the foreign minister urged reconsideration of the decision by the British government. When asked at the press conference, Raab said that the decision was “in shared interest amid domestic and global challenges”.
The Foreign Office statement said that the foreign minister also highlighted Pakistan’s tremendous progress in the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) Action Plan and hoped that no attempt to politicise this process would be allowed.
In the context of bilateral relations, it was agreed that the strong Pakistan-UK bilateral relations must be expanded further, especially in the economic and trade spheres. Raab said that the basis for the UK-Pakistan relationship was very strong and expressed the desire of his country to take it to the next level.
Later, Foreign Secretary Raab called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and exchanged views with him on the latest developments in Afghanistan as well as matters relating to climate change, peace and stability in South Asia, and global geopolitical situation.
Recalling his telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Imran shared Pakistan’s perspective on the evolving situation in Afghanistan. He underlined the importance of a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan for Pakistan and regional stability.
The prime minister stressed that the international community should stand in solidarity with the Afghan people and undertake positive engagement. He cautioned against the role of “spoilers”, both inside and outside Afghanistan, which could destabilise the situation.
Imran also sensitised the UK side on the gross human rights violations in IIOJK, including the inhuman snatching away of the mortal remains of Syed Ali Geelani. The prime minister also shared concerns on the retention of Pakistan on the Red List, causing inconvenience to dual nationals.
(WITH INPUT FROM AGENCIES)
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