H.E. Mr. SirojiddinMuhriddin, Foreign Minister of Tajikistan,
H.E. Mr. Hanif Atmar, Foreign Minister of Afghanistan,
Foreign Ministers of the Heart of Asia participating countries,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me immense pleasure to be part of this Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process Ministerial Conference.
At the outset, let me thank the Government and people of Tajikistan for their gracious hospitality and excellent arrangements in organizing this Conference, despite serious health and logistical challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has disrupted social and economic order on a scale not seen in living memory.
Our prayers are with those who have lost loved ones, and those who are struggling with this deadly virus.
Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process is an important platform, bringing participating and supporting countries together to advance shared goals of peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.
We value this CBMs-led process and are committed to its steady progress.
For us, Afghanistan is an important neighbor and a brotherly country with strong historical links.
No other nation could claim to have such immutable bonds with Afghanistan, and thus more desirous of peace and progress in Afghanistan, than Pakistan.
As we gather here today, the Afghan peace process stands at a defining juncture.
Having faced conflict and instability for over 40 years, Afghanistan has never been so close to turning the tide.
In September 2020, we witnessed a gathering of Afghan parties in Doha, which was unthinkable before.
That gathering was preceded by another milestone when the U.S.-Taliban Peace Agreement was signed in February 2020.
The progress made thus far has, indeed, created a historic opportunity for the Afghan leadership to achieve an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive negotiated political settlement.
We have arrived at this stage, guided by the conviction that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
It is imperative that this belief continues to guide the Afghan parties, and the international community supporting the aspirations of the Afghan people.
In our outreach to Afghan leaders across a wide spectrum, Pakistan has consistently urged them to remain constructively engaged for securing a positive outcome.
Our message to all of them is to take the process forward through good faith, substantive and result-oriented negotiations.
We are cognizant that this historic opportunity for the Afghan nation is also laced with formidable challenges.
We have consistently cautioned against the role of “spoilers”, both within and outside Afghanistan.
We remain deeply concerned about the continuation of violence across Afghanistan, resulting in loss of precious lives.
We fear that any space gained by ISIS and Al-Qaeda could accentuate the threat of terrorism.
We are concerned that the risks posed by damaged infrastructure and lack of economic opportunities may undermine the gains made in the peace process.
When the Doha Peace Agreement was signed last year, we called it a moment of hope and optimism.
It must be our collective endeavour to ensure that this hope is not dissipated; that this rare opportunity is not lost.
For this, everyone will have to summon every ounce of patience, commitment and perseverance.
Constructive engagement and consultations on all key aspects of the peace process are imperative.
Flexibility and a spirit of compromise would be indispensable.
Going forward, I suggest we focus on:
• Consolidating and building upon the progress made through the Doha process.
• Preserving the international community’s investment and the consequent development gains made over the years.
• Ensuring orderly and responsible withdrawal.
• Making sure reduction in violence and ceasefire are achieved at the earliest.
• Culminating the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process into a sustainable political solution.
• Securing the international community’s financial engagement to support Afghanistan in its post-conflict path to progress.
• Planning long-term reconstruction and economic development for Afghanistan.
• Creating pull factors for the Afghan refugees to return to their homeland with dignity and honor through a time-bound and well-resourced plan.
Let me just briefly underline that, besides facilitating the peace process, Pakistan is extending all possible support to Afghanistan.
We have committed US$ 1 billion for Afghanistan’s development and reconstruction.
Nearly US$ 500 million have already been spent on infrastructure and capacity-building projects.
A new visa regime has been instituted to facilitate travel.
Despite COVID-19, we opened five border crossing-points to facilitate bilateral and transit trade.
We are engaged with Afghanistan on revision of the Transit Trade Agreement.
Pakistan has also operationalized Gwadar seaport for Afghan Transit Trade.
Pakistan is keen to move forward on regional connectivity and energy projects such as CASA-1000 and TAPI.
The Trans-Afghan railway project connecting Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan is being pursued to promote trade, tourism and people-to-people exchanges.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as the flagship project of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is open with beneficial prospects for Afghanistan.
Under the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, Pakistan is a participant in all CBMs and a lead country in Disaster Management & Environmental Protection and Agricultural Development.
Pakistan hosted first virtual meeting of Regional Technical Group (RTG) of Agriculture Development CBM on 05 March 2021.
The areas of cooperation agreed in the meeting include plant quarantine system, advancement of seed industry and value crop production.
We believe our cooperation in developing agriculture in the HoA region will contribute in enhancing prosperity and improving livelihood in the region.
All these steps are practical manifestations of our resolve to build close cooperative ties with Afghanistan.
Excellencies and distinguished participants,
As I close, I express my confidence that our deliberations today will be meaningful and productive and that the “Dushanbe Declaration” would reflect our common resolve to standby and support the Afghan people at this most consequential time in their history.
For its part, Pakistan will continue to support a peaceful, stable, united, democratic, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan, at peace with itself and with its neighbors.
I thank you all.