LONDON: Britain said on Friday it would release 30 million pounds ($41 million) of aid to support nations neighbouring Afghanistan dealing with refugees fleeing the country since the Taliban took control.
The British government said 10 million pounds would immediately be made available to the UN refugee agency UNHCR and other humanitarian groups to help with shelters and sanitation facilities at the borders.
The remainder will go to nations that experienced a significant number of refugees to provide essential services and supplies, it said.
“It is vital that we help those fleeing Afghanistan and do not allow the crisis there to undermine regional stability,” British foreign minister Dominic Raab said.
The UNHCR has said up to half a million Afghans could flee their homeland by the end of the year. Many fleeing the country are believed to be heading to Pakistan, while another of Afghanistan’s neighbors Tajikistan has pledged to accept 100,000 refugees.
Britain itself has said it would take some 20,000 Afghan refugees with 5,000 expected to arrive in the first year.
Earlier this month, Britain announced it would double its humanitarian and development aid to Afghanistan to 286 million pounds this year, and Raab said on a visit to Qatar on Thursday there was a need to engage with the Taliban.
Dominic Raab in Pakistan
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab during the latter’s two-day visit to Pakistan, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Friday said that Pakistan needed to coexist with the Taliban and have a “realistic” approach towards the group.
He was questioned on whether Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban would be “conditions-based”.
According to a Dawn report, responding to this, Qureshi said the choices available must be considered before determining any conditions.
“Some have the choice of getting up and leaving but we do not. We are neighbours [and] we have to coexist. Geography ties us together so our approach [to the Taliban] has to be somewhat different [and] realistic,” the foreign minister said.
FM Qureshi said Pakistan had certain “compulsions” in its affairs with Afghanistan that “perhaps you don’t have to” such as daily border crossings of 20,000 to 25,000 people.
“Can we block them? No, we can’t. Can we regulate them? Yes, we should. Are there risks? Yes, there are organisations there that are not friendly to you or us or anyone so we have to guard against that as well.”
“The bulk of Afghanistan’s trade passes through Pakistan so could the latter close its border with the former? Would Pakistan be contributing to any ensuing humanitarian crisis as a result?” the foreign minister questioned.
“If we have to trade with them then who do we talk to? Engaging with any authority who is in charge is a compulsion that we have to deal with.
“Recognising these challenges, Pakistan has said it is for Afghans to decide about their future. We will engage with a government that has the backing of the people of Afghanistan. Our focus is on and we want to help the people of Afghanistan because we feel they have suffered for decades and there is a real opportunity for peace after 40 years,” said FM Qureshi.
He added that anyone advocating “peace and stability” from among the Taliban was a “friend” and “we will work with that reality”. Qureshi said Pakistan was awaiting developments in the next few days with “eyes and ears open”.
The foreign minister reiterated Pakistan’s stance that it “had no favourites” in Afghanistan. He said Afghanistan comprised of different ethnic groups.
“That is why we have said as neighbours and wellwishers that it is in your (Afghanistan’s) interest to adopt an inclusive approach,” Qureshi said.
Similarly, on the UK’s approach to the Taliban, Raab said: “The approach we are taking is that we don’t recognise the Taliban as a government […] but we do see the importance of being able to engage and have a direct line of communication, the reason being that there is a whole range of issues that need to be discussed including the question of safe passage of British nationals and the Afghans who worked for the UK government.”
He noted that the Taliban had made a series of undertakings, “some of them are positive at the level of words” but there was a need to test whether they translated into deeds — which would not be possible if some channel of dialogue wasn’t present.
Pakistan on UK travel red list
Among the discussions between the two, FM Qureshi said he had raised the issue of Pakistan being on the UK’s travel red list and what was required to move it to the amber list.
The United Kingdom operates a “traffic light” system for international travel, with low-risk countries rated green for quarantine-free travel, medium risk countries rated amber, and red countries requiring arrivals to spend 10 days in isolation in a hotel.
“I’m happy there is a technical meeting that has been arranged on Monday. [Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health] Dr Faisal Sultan will be representing Pakistan and putting forward our point of view.
“I have also suggested a number of steps that can be taken to make both sides comfortable on how to deal [with] and overcome this challenge and get Pakistan into the amber list,” FM Qureshi said.
Raab noted that he understood the impact of the issue on British and Pakistani nationals in response to a question on the strain it had placed on relations between the two countries and how they could be improved.
“I also commend the efforts of the Government of Pakistan to contain the pandemic […] we understand this is a sensitive and difficult issue.”
He explained the UK based its decisions on scientific and technical evidence and said Monday’s meeting was a positive development.
“We want to find a way through. No one wants Pakistan off the red list more than I do but we take these decisions on a technical level. I think the smart thing for us to do is to work together to enable that to happen as soon, as safely and as responsibly as can be done,” he said.
FM Qureshi also pointed out that the issue of Indian-occupied Kashmir had indeed been discussed in response to a question. He said he highlighted how Indian security forces snatched the body of Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and treated his family.
Raab, meanwhile, reiterated the UK’s position on the issue that it was for India and Pakistan to find a long-lasting political resolution. “We encourage both sides to maintain a constructive dialogue.”
Meanwhile, former member of House of Lords Mr. Nazir Ahmed has issued a video statement in English and Urdu on the visit of Domini Raab to Pakistan and has stressed that Pakistan Government should utilise this important visit and should pursued Foreign Secretary to end the restrictions of Red List which is great painful.
Regretfully, due to heavy file, technically these video could not be uploaded here.