Honorable Foreign Ministers,
I would like to thank Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for inviting me to participate in this important and timely initiative on Afghanistan.
As a country that has been profoundly affected by conflict and instability in Afghanistan for over 40 years, Pakistan has a vital interest in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
We clearly appreciate the message that President Biden gave on 31 August 2021 that the war had ended in Afghanistan. We, too, believe it is time to turn the page.
Today, there is a changed political reality in Afghanistan.
An interim setup has been announced by the Taliban.
Pakistan hopes that the socio-economic and development gains made over the last 20 years would be secured.
We also believe that only a peaceful and stable Afghanistan will be a credible development and counterterrorism partner for the international community.
Moreover, such an end-state would only be achieved through more, not less, regional and international engagement on Afghanistan.
Pakistan, as an immediate neighbor cannot afford to disengage.
Now let me turn to the present situation in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan sits on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. We have all seen the reports of famine, food shortages, and soaring inflation in Afghanistan.
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. While Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors, especially Pakistan, would bear the immediate brunt of such a calamity, we would all feel its aftershocks eventually. Sustained economic support is essential to alleviate the sufferings of Afghan people.
Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan remain open to Afghans but the world must appreciate our limitations. Pakistan is already home to approx 4 million Afghans, both documented and undocumented. We are a developing country grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic. We simply cannot sustain more refugees from Afghanistan.
The international community must put the Afghan people first. 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 longsuffering Afghan people. 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.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you know, Pakistan’s diplomatic missions in Afghanistan are open and continue to facilitate Afghans who wish to leave Afghanistan. In the days leading up to the completion of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan provided critical support to the multinational evacuation effort from Kabul airport. At the request of the United States, we have also made special arrangements for the transit of Afghans who are to be resettled abroad.
Pakistan hopes the commitments made on providing safe passage to Afghans and foreigners who want to travel outside would be honoured. Continued Operationalization of Kabul airport is vital. This would be helpful in relieving some of the pressure on our border crossings.
Finally, we are all conscious that this meeting is taking place days before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. This is a grim reminder of our shared and core interest in Afghanistan: counterterrorism.
Perhaps no country has a greater stake in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a sanctuary for terrorist groups than Pakistan. Since 2001, fighting the war against terrorism has taken over 80,000 Pakistani casualties and caused direct losses of over least $150 billion to our economy.
We have paid dearly – in blood and in treasure – for clearing our former tribal areas of militant groups. But these gains are tenuous, as the recent surge in terrorist attacks against Pakistan by Afghanistan-based terrorist groups proves.
We are concerned that terrorist groups, ranging from Al Qaeda and ISIS-K to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and BLA, could use ungoverned spaces inside Afghanistan to plot and launch new transnational attacks.
This brings me back to the importance of a strong and stable government in Afghanistan. Only such a government would be able to establish its writ over Afghanistan and work effectively with the international community to deny space to terrorist groups that want to harm our countries. Thus, we must never allow creation of a political vacuum in Afghanistan leading to insecurity and instability.
Sustained international engagement with Afghanistan thus remains the best counterterrorism investment for all of us.
Any other outcome would only produce an Afghanistan that is internally unstable and externally destabilizing. We are certain that the international community does not desire that end-state.
I thank you.
Last modified: September 8, 2021