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Pakistan joins new quadrilateral forum on Afghanistan issue

TASHKENT: Three regional countries and an offshore power “agreed in principle” on Friday to set up a new diplomatic forum to enhance physical connectivity in South and Central Asia to harness the true economic potential of the neighbourhood, the foreign office informed in a statement circulated in Islamabad.

The decision was taken on the side-lines of an international conference in Tashkent where representatives of the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan decided to establish the quadrilateral forum to explore possibilities of economic collaboration for greater prosperity.

“The parties consider long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan critical to regional connectivity and agree that peace and regional connectivity are mutually reinforcing,” the foreign office said.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, center, with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, front right, on the side-lines of Central and South Asia 2021 conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on July 16, 2021.

“Recognizing the historic opportunity to open flourishing interregional trade routes, the parties intend to cooperate to expand trade, build transit links, and strengthen business-to-business ties,” it added.

Pakistan wants to connect the landlocked Central Asian republics through its deep-sea Gwadar port in southwestern Balochistan to boost its geo-economic position in the region.

Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted the significance of his country’s connectivity with Uzbekistan while addressing an audience in Tashkent on Thursday, saying it would create greater prosperity in the region.

“Pakistan has immense potential to connect Central Asia with rest of the world and become a hub of trade,” he said in a speech in the Uzbek capital. However, Afghanistan’s security deficit and political instability can make it challenging for his administration to implement the geo-economic vision.

In this context, members of the new quadrilateral forum agreed to meet in the coming months to determine the modalities of their cooperation and devise ways to move toward regional connectivity.

The US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs also announced the formation of the group in a Twitter post and shared the joint statement.

Suggestion to Ashraf Ghani

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday urged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to consider Pakistan a “partner in peace” instead of blaming it for the ongoing conflict in the war-battered country as Islamabad was trying its best along with other regional states to facilitate a political settlement in Afghanistan.

The prime minister made the comment while addressing an international conference, “Central and South Asia Regional Connectivity: Challenges and Opportunities,” during his two-day visit to Uzbekistan. The Afghan president was also present at the conference.

Imran Khan’s remarks came shortly after President Ghani blamed Pakistan of a “negative role” in the Afghan peace process, saying that 10,000 fighters had crossed over into Afghanistan from the country.

TASHKENT: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev exchanges documents at Koksaray Palace on Thursday.

“If talks fail, we will fight the Taliban,” he maintained. “This is the last chance for peace.” However, the Pakistan prime minister said it was “extremely unfair” to blame his country for what was going on in Afghanistan.

“I feel really disappointed that we have been blamed for what is going on in Afghanistan,” he responded during his speech. “What is happening in Afghanistan is over two decades of conflict, deep divisions and, unfortunately, the United States seeking a military solution where there was not one.”

Khan said the best time to bring the Taliban to the table was when there were 150,000 troops in Afghanistan. United States President Joe Biden has announced to pull out all the troops from Afghanistan by September this year after two decades of war.

TASHKENT: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan introduces members of his delegation to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev at Koksaray Palace on Thursday.

“Why is Taliban going to compromise when the exit date was given and with only a few thousand American troops left [in Afghanistan],” the premier asked. “Why would they [the Taliban] listen to us when they are sensing victory?”

The Pakistani PM said his country was already hosting about three million Afghan refugees and was not in a position to take in more if the conflict intensified in the neighbouring country.

“The Afghan side conveyed to Pakistan its intention of carrying out air operation inside its territory opposite Chaman Sector of Pakistan,” the foreign office explained in its statement. “Pakistan responded positively to Afghan Government’s right to act in its territory.”
“However, as alleged by the Afghan Vice President, Pakistan Air Force never communicated anything to the Afghan Air Force.” the statement continued. “Such statements undermine Pakistan’s sincere efforts to play its part in an Afghan owned and Afghan led solution.”