Pakistan on Wednesday urged the world to discard “old lenses” and proceed with a “realistic and pragmatic” approach on Afghanistan in a statement that many observers see as Islamabad’s bid to seek the international community’s support for the interim government of the Afghan Taliban.
The statement of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi came a day after the Taliban announced an interim government that drew criticism from the Western countries for ignoring the demands of an inclusive set-up.
He also suggested inviting Taliban-run Afghanistan to a regional forum of six countries to help avert a humanitarian and economic crisis in the country.
Qureshi attended two key meetings on Afghanistan. First he hosted a virtual meeting of the foreign ministers of Iran, China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Later, he was part of another meeting co-hosted by the US secretary of state and the German foreign minister.
In both meetings, Qureshi’s message was clear that the world needed to accept the new reality and proceed accordingly.
Although he did not explicitly say it, his carefully written statement was enough to suggest that Pakistan wanted the world to work with the Afghan Taliban government.
“The new situation requires discarding old lenses, developing new insights, and proceeding with a realistic and pragmatic approach,” he told the virtual meeting.
Pakistan’s efforts seeking support for the new government in Afghanistan stems from its fears of a possible economic meltdown and humanitarian crisis if the world abandons the neighbouring country.
Speaking at the meeting hosted by the US and Germany, Qureshi even called for unfreezing the foreign reserves of Afghanistan that were withheld by the US after the fall of Kabul.
“The international community must put the Afghan people first,” he told the meeting attended by the foreign ministers of Turkey, UK, Spain, India, Saudi Arabia, German, UAE and the NATO secretary general.
“We have to take care that in denying Afghanistan access to its foreign reserves or international financial institutions, we do not end up adding to the miseries of the long-suffering Afghan people,” he said.
The Afghanistan State Bank had around $9 billion foreign reserves at the time of fall of Kabul but its assets were frozen by the US and hence the Taliban could not have access to them. International financial institutions including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also suspended their funding for Afghanistan.
“It is in our collective interest that our actions do not make economic migrants of millions of Afghans who are otherwise content to live in their own country,” Qureshi added.
The minister said Afghanistan sat on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
“We have all seen the reports of famine, food shortages, and soaring inflation in Afghanistan.”
He urged the international community to maintain their diplomatic presence in the war-torn country.
“There is some consolation that the sudden collapse of the former Afghan government has not caused the mass exodus of refugees from Afghanistan that we had feared. But we must be cautious that economic meltdown does not instead trigger such a crisis.”
Qureshi suggested transforming the regional platform of neighbouring countries into a regular consultative mechanism.
“I also suggest that we may give consideration to the idea to invite Afghanistan in future,” he proposed.
“The participation of Afghanistan will augment this forum’s effectiveness in pursuing our shared objectives for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
Separately, the Foreign office in a first formal reaction hoped that the announcement of the interim political set-up in Kabul would address the requirement of a governance structure to meet the urgent needs of people of Afghanistan.
“We hope that the new political dispensation will ensure coordinated efforts for peace, security and stability in Afghanistan as well as work towards taking care of humanitarian and development needs of the Afghan people,” the statement added.
It read that Pakistan had reaffirmed its abiding commitment to a peaceful, stable, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan.
The Qatari foreign minister is due to visit Islamabad on Thursday (today) — a latest visit by a top foreign diplomat to discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan.
According to a separate statement issued by the foreign affairs ministry, the government has decided to dispatch humanitarian assistance comprising food and medicines for the people of Afghanistan.
“Three C-130s are being dispatched to Afghanistan. After the first immediate tranche through air, further supplies would continue through land routes,” it read.