PM to visit Kabul soon…

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan on Thursday confirmed that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will visit Afghanistan soon for talks for regional peace.

Speaking at a weekly news briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said the visit will be part of continuous engagement for peace in Afghanistan.

He said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had invited the prime minister during National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua’s recent visit to Afghanistan.

He said Pakistan had always supported an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process in Afghanistan. “Pakistan has reiterated that only through political reconciliation, wherein all warring factions begin a meaningful and result-oriented dialogue with the Afghan government, can lasting peace be achieved in Afghanistan. We have supported the Afghanistan related initiatives in this context,” he said.

Faisal said Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan remained unchanged.

“During our NSA’s recent visit to Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani invited Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to Afghanistan at a convenient time, an offer that he has accepted. It is a welcoming development, and part of our continuous dialogue and engagement with Afghanistan and the international community for a lasting solution to the Afghan problem. It is true that peace in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to Pakistan’s peace and stability,” he said.

The spokesperson said the meeting between the visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells and Foreign Secretary reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations, including Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, Financial Action Task Force and discussed the regional situation in Afghanistan in the wake of President Donald Trump’s South Asia and Afghanistan policy.

“Ambassador Wells is due to meet a few other senior officials in the next few days. This is her second visit (to Pakistan). The two countries are maintaining regular engagement to address the common challenges and take the relationship forward. We are trying to find the common ground,” he said.

Faisal said Pakistan had welcomed President Ghani’s vision for peace and supported his offer of peace talks with the Taliban. Afghan leadership, he said, had appreciated and thanked Pakistan for supporting the Afghan peace and reconciliation process, during Pakistan’s NSA’s visit to Kabul on March 18.

“Pakistan has been urging Taliban through it public statements, as well as, private messaging to join the peace process. This, we feel, is a shared responsibility. Pakistan should not be singled out in this regard,” he said.

Faisal said groups including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Jamaatul Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Islam and Daesh had established sanctuaries on the Afghan side of the Pak-Afghan border. “We have shared the locations of the safe heavens of these groups with Afghan and the US authorities on many occasions, however, our concerns have not yet been fully addressed.

This issue has been addressed in some locations where Afghanistan has established its border posts and deployed troops,” he added.

The concentration of Daesh along the borders with Pakistan, Central Asian republics, Iran and China, he said, further “alarms us of its negative implications for Afghanistan, Pakistan and regional security. Daesh has been involved in cross-border raids at Pakistani military posts.”

He said the unprecedented ceasefire violations by Indian occupation forces continue from last year into 2018. Indian escalation on the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, he said, were attempts to divert the attention of the international community from the Indian atrocities against Kashmiris and the rapidly deteriorating situation in held Kashmir.

“The Pakistani forces have exerted great restraint but this restraint should not be construed as a sign of weakness,” he said.

On Pakistan-India humanitarian proposals of exchange of prisoners, he said, Pakistan had agreed to the Indian proposal regarding the exchange of lists of prisoners above 70 years of age, women and mentally challenged, visit of the judicial committee and the visit of medical teams of both countries.

Additionally, he said, Pakistan also proposed exchanging lists of children below 18 years and prisoners below 60 years.

To a question, Faisal said the continuing ban on Pakistani artists in India is regrettable. However, he said, Pakistan “prides itself on being a tolerant modern country which encourages and promotes people to people contacts – we believe that art and culture can, and should enrich societies, instead of being used as political tools which inhibit and curtail.”

He said Indian treatment of minorities and the growing extremism and religious intolerance rampant in Indian society was not a secret. “International human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have sharply criticized India on the same.  Rising intolerance in India is a threat not only to India itself but the entire region. The policy of divisiveness being pursued in India is to the detriment of India itself,” he said.

Earlier, Faisal gave a roundup of the diplomatic activities. He said the Indian forces were continuing to kill Kashmiris. “The miseries of the people in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir have increased every day, as the Indian occupation forces continue to terrorize the innocent civilians and to damage the properties without any provocation,” he said.