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Statement by the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz on 10 May 2017 at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Islamabad

(2017-05-10) Ambassador Sohail Amin,
Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to address this august gathering of distinguished academicians and thinkers today. I commend IPRI's efforts for gathering notable researchers on this seminar to discuss a topic which is of immense significance in the context of our foreign policy. I believe that the presence of international scholars shall make it a very informative session bringing in diverse perspectives on Afghanistan.

The title of today's conference "Achieving Peace in Afghanistan: Challenges & Prospects" is a topic of great importance. The challenges in Afghanistan have multiplied since January 2015, when the NATO ended its combat mission and Afghan forces assumed direct security responsibilities. The persistent conflict and the failure of military strategy to bring peace has taken a heavy toll on both Afghan security forces and the civilians. The lack of progress on peace process, emerging threat of Daesh, drugs trafficking, the resettlement of returning refugees are some of the issues that have been making it difficult for Afghanistan to create a stable country. This situation is affecting not only Afghanistan's neighbours but the entire region.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are also being affected due to these factors, despite our centuries old bonds of common culture, heritage, traditions and religion. A peaceful prosperous Afghanistan is in our interest. We believe that a politically negotiated settlement will be the most viable option for bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan. Towards this end, Pakistan has been making sincere efforts for facilitating talks between Afghan Government and Taliban. Our consistent and clear message to the Taliban has been that they must give up violence and join the peace process. Our efforts led to Murree talks in July, 2015 and the setting up of Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) in December, 2015. However, both times the process was undermined by forced who were against reconciliation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Terrorism is a major threat to regional and international peace. In recent years, Pakistan has been a victim of brutal terrorism. Since 2014, a national consensus has been developed for a determined fight against this scourge. Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched in January, 2014 has successfully dismantled the terrorist networks from all over the country. The tribal areas particularly North Waziristan have been cleared. Any remnants of the dismantled groups are now being targeted through Operation Rad-ul-Fasad. Our success in counter-terrorism has been recognized by US Congressional leaders and military commanders who visited the Pakistan-Afghanistan border including North Waziristan. FATA reforms are being introduced to mainstream FATA's politically and administratively, and to accelerate its development and safeguard its security.

In order to strengthen these gains we have been emphasizing the need for effective border management with Afghanistan. This would prevent the movement of terrorists and miscreants and would help address the Afghan allegations regarding TTA and Haqqani networks presence in Pakistan. We have also been stressing upon the Afghan government to take action against the TTP and JuA sanctuaries in Afghanistan who have been crossing through the porous border and launching terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

Meaningful engagement between Pakistan and Afghanistan is of key importance for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. In recent weeks, exchange of visits has gained momentum. Speaker National Assembly, led a multi-party high level parliamentary delegation to Kabul as part of our efforts of strengthening engagement with Afghanistan. The Chief of General Staff and DG(ISI) also undertook visits to Afghanistan. It is important that these visits and interactions are streamlined under the rubric of bilateral cooperation mechanism agreed upon between the two sides in March for cooperation in diplomatic, military and intelligence fields with political oversight. Ladies and Gentlemen, Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have immense scope and offer multiple opportunities. Pakistan extends transit trade facilities to Afghanistan through its ports under an Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) without any quantitative limits or barriers. The revision of this agreement is due and we are hoping that the next meeting of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA) would be convened soon. For past four decades, Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees with dignity and honour. We are engaged with Afghanistan and the UNHCR for voluntary and dignified repatriation of these Afghans. In order to facilitate the return, the Prime Minister has already extended the stay of refugees in Pakistan upto 31 December 2017. We are also working on a facilitative visa regime for the refugees to cater for their education, medical and economic needs. The international community has to play an important role in ensuring that the returns are sustainable and the returnees are able to settle in Afghanistan. Ladies and Gentlemen Under the bilateral assistance package, Pakistan has undertaken development projects in Afghanistan worth US$ 500 million. 3000 scholarships have also been availed by the Afghan students for education in Pakistan's colleges and universities. At Brussels Conference last year, Pakistan announced an additional pledge of US$ 500 million and 3000 additional scholarships for higher education in medicine, engineering, technology, finance and other fields to fulfill Afghanistan's development needs.

I would also like to highlight that connectivity with Afghanistan is an important element on our agenda. Exploitation of Afghanistan's vast mineral resources need rail-road connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that the transportation of the extracted minerals to the outer world could be realized. Projects including Peshawar-Kabul motorway and Quetta-Kandahar Rail link are in pipeline which would only come to fruition if an environment of peace and stability is achieved. Moreover, energy cooperation through projects like CASA-1000 and TAPI will bring huge dividends for Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to conclude by reiterating that the future of the region lies in peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Pakistan remains committed to the goal of lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region.