UK foreign secretary in Pakistan to discuss evolving Afghanistan situation

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ISLAMABAD: United Kingdom Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab reached Islamabad Thursday night for a two-day visit to Pakistan to discuss bilateral ties and the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban swept the country.

The UK official is in Pakistan till September 3.

Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi will hold official talks with Secretary of State Dominic Raab. The talks will cover the evolving situation in Afghanistan and bilateral matters.

Foreign Secretary Raab is also scheduled to have an interaction at the leadership level, the Foreign Office said in a statement. He will meet Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of the Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Raab will be visiting the Torkham border with other British officials Friday afternoon, sources in the British government had said, adding that the purpose of the Torkham border visit is to get acquainted with the problems of the Afghan refugees.

Britain will work with Pakistan to help Afghan refugees, the sources said.

After completing his visit to Pakistan, the UK foreign secretary will reportedly brief British officials on the issue of refugees.

Pakistan and the United Kingdom have been closely engaged in the latest developments in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had a comprehensive exchange of views with Prime Minister Boris Johnson telephonically on August 18.

FM Qureshi and Secretary of State Dominic Raab discussed the situation in Afghanistan twice on August 16 and 27.

The visit will reinforce the current momentum in high-level exchanges.

Raab is the third western foreign minister coming to Pakistan after the Kabul fall. Prior to his visit, Germany’s Heiko Maas and Netherlands’ Sigrid Kaag came to Islamabad.

Before travelling to Islamabad, Dominic Raab visited Doha to hold talks with Qatari leadership on the Afghan crisis.

While speaking during a joint press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Raab had said there is a need to engage with the Taliban on Afghanistan, but Britain has no immediate plans to recognise their government.

“Our commitment on the part of the United Kingdom to Afghanistan remains. We need to adjust to the new reality,” Raab had told reporters.

‘UK foreign secretary to hold talks on rescue of Britons left behind in Kabul’

Raab has been under intense fire for being away on vacation as Kabul fell after the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government, and thousands of Britons were left stranded.

The UK government had said Raab will head to the region for talks about the rescue of those left behind in Kabul after the departure of the remaining foreign forces.

The foreign secretary had said he would be leaving for the region on Wednesday, after a combative grilling on the government’s handling of the crisis in Afghanistan by the Foreign Affairs Committee, but did not say where exactly, due to security reasons.

Meanwhile, a UK government source confirmed that Raab will be meeting civilian and military leadership during his visit to Pakistan and that the visit was being held on the request of the UK government.

The source had added that Raab will also likely meet a representative of the Afghanistan government.

On Tuesday, Raab had told the Foreign Affairs Committee: “We’re always very careful about signalling travel movements because of the security implications. But I can tell you I’m leaving after this committee to go to the region.”

Committee chair Tom Tugendhat had asked Raab: “Is this your first trip to Pakistan?”

“I’ve been to Pakistan before but not as a foreign secretary,” he had responded.

Raab had said the central assessment of the UK government was that Kabul was “unlikely” to fall in 2021, despite it ultimately being taken by the Taliban in the middle of August.

“The central assessment that we were operating to, and it was certainly backed up by the JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) and the military, is that the most likely, the central proposition, was that given the troop withdrawal by the end of August, you’d see a steady deterioration from that point and it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year,” he had said.

Raab had pledged not to recognise the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan, but said the UK and its allies will “test them and judge them”.

He had told the Foreign Affairs Committee: “We will not recognise the Taliban. I believe the US and most of the like-minded G7 countries have all said the same. What we will do is test them and judge them by how they respond.

“I think we will need, as I have said, a much broader caucus of countries involved in trying to resolve this. The United States is going to remain engaged and responsible for what happens next and of course, we want to work very closely with them.”

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