By Ali A. Jenabzadeh
October 29, 2021 – Tehran Times
TEHRAN – In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times on Thursday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the current rulers in Afghanistan are first and foremost responsible for providing security for Afghan citizens.
“Security of Afghanistan is the fundamental responsibility of the Afghan government,” Qureshi asserts.
Qureshi had visited Iran to participate in a ministerial meeting on immediate Neighbors of Afghanistan (26-28 October 2021).
Foreign Minister Qureshi also said, “No country is more affected by instability in Afghanistan than Pakistan and Iran.”
Among the six countries neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have the longest borders with Afghanistan. They have been hosting millions of Afghan refugees for more than 40 years.
“No alternative to engagement with the Afghan authorities.”
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: You recently visited Kabul and met with Taliban leaders. In your opinion, have the Taliban really changed and become moderate?
A: My one-day visit to Kabul was a manifestation of Pakistan’s policy of peaceful neighborhood and our consistent effort to assist the Afghan brethren in this crucial time and keep channels of communication open with all neighboring states, including the brotherly nation of Afghanistan. I had fruitful discussion with the Afghan leadership covering the entire spectrum of bilateral relations, including deepening bilateral trade and economic relations and facilitating closer people-to-people contacts. It also gave me an opportunity to exchange views on issues of regional peace and stability.
It is important to note that the initial statements made by the Taliban indicate a different approach from the past. This has been noted by the world. While the Taliban’s actions will be closely watched, these positive statements and early signals are encouraging.
Q: Recently Shiite mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar were attacked cold-bloodedly. This has raised concerns about the stability and security of Afghanistan. How serious do you think the Taliban are in preventing such attacks?
A: We strongly condemn any act of violence against mosques and other places and institutions of worship. The security and stability of Afghanistan is the fundamental responsibility of the Afghan government. So far, the responsibility for such attacks in Afghanistan has been claimed by ISIS-K, a terrorist entity that does not distinguish between religions or sects or nationalities. Nobody wants ISIS-K to grow, neither the Afghan government, nor the neighboring states, or the international community. The Afghan government is determined to fight the footprint of ISIS-K in the interest of peace in Afghanistan and in the region. They have repeatedly made pronouncements to this effect and have displayed their ability to counter ISIS in battles in Nangarhar. We must remain vigilant about the role of spoilers, who are backing terrorist entities to create instability in Afghanistan and its neighborhood.
Q: On Wednesday, Tehran hosted a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of countries neighboring Afghanistan. What do you think was the achievement of the meeting? And is it possible that the Taliban would join such meetings in the future?
A: We welcome Iran’s hosting of the Ministerial meeting of neighboring states of Afghanistan. I had laid the foundation for this forum of neighboring states of Afghanistan during August 2021, when I toured the region, including Tehran, to build consensus for holding meetings in this format. Afghanistan’s neighboring states are directly affected by the developments in Afghanistan and there was a need to have a forum where they could coordinate their positions and discuss common concerns for peace and stability in the region. The next meeting will be hosted by China and we hope that this momentum will be maintained by other participating countries.
“Peace and security in Afghanistan are linked directly to regional stability.”
Q: So far, no country has recognized the Taliban government. Do you think that we would see countries that would recognize Taliban in the near future? Is Pakistan playing a role in this regard?
A: We have consistently maintained that there is no alternative to engagement with the Afghan authorities. The Afghan people are on the verge of a major humanitarian catastrophe due to food shortages and dearth of financial resources. Peace and security in Afghanistan are linked directly to regional stability. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past. The Taliban are a reality in Afghanistan. The international community should chalk out a road map for political engagement with the Afghan political dispensation. The people of Afghanistan deserve peace and prosperity. They suffer the most from continued conflict and global disengagement.
Our role has been one of constructive engagement with Afghanistan. As a fraternal neighbor, Pakistan has always stood by Afghanistan. Pakistan kept the border crossing points open for trade and pedestrian crossing under COVID protocols. Facilitative visa regime for Afghan nationals and border crossing procedures for trade and cargo have been instituted. In recent months, Pakistan has provided humanitarian aid and assistance in the form of food stuffs and medicines. We have also announced provision of Pakistan Rs.5 billion in aid to Afghanistan as humanitarian support for the brotherly people of Afghanistan.
Q: To what extent has the issue of Afghanistan affected relations between Iran and Pakistan? Are the two countries coordinated in Afghanistan?
A) Iran is a fraternal and brotherly neighboring state of Pakistan. Our relations are not dependent on or associated with our relations with third countries. Pakistan and Iran have had close coordination on developments in Afghanistan at all levels. We have always emphasized that no country is more affected by instability in Afghanistan than Pakistan and Iran. Both countries have hosted the largest number of Afghan refugees and have been witness to the direct fallout of turmoil in Afghanistan. We will continue to remain engaged with the Iranian government bilaterally as well as in a multilateral format.
Q: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan recently visited Saudi Arabia. Did the Prime Minister discuss Afghanistan during the trip? Is Khan seeking Saudi financial aid to Afghanistan?
A: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia was in connection with the “Middle East Green Initiative (MGI) Summit”, which is in line with the Prime Minister’s own vision of “Clean and Green Pakistan” and “10 billion Tree Tsunami” program. The Prime Minister also held a bilateral engagements with the Saudi leadership. The primary focus of these interactions was expansion of economic and trade relations, however, it is not unusual to have discussions on other matters, such as regional peace and security during such visits, and naturally, Afghanistan was also discussed.