ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif terming terrorism and extremism as the common enemy of Pakistan and Afghanistan called for a collective approach to combat the menace.
Inaugurating the Ministerial Conference of Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, the Prime Minister also called for early finalization of border management SOPs to contain terrorists’ movement across the border.
The Prime Minister said Pakistan has always emphasized a holistic approach for bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan.
“It is our firm belief that a robust and meaningful reconciliation process owned and led by Afghans, is vital for long term peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
He said, “Pakistan is ready to extend support to a meaningful process, wherein both the Afghan Government and the Taliban can move forward, in a spirit of accommodation and reconciliation.”
Sharif reiterated Pakistan’s commitment and desire to facilitate the resumption of the stalled reconciliation process.
He also appreciated the support of friends for the Afghan reconciliation process.
“We believe that the association of China and the US in the reconciliation process has been instrumental in moving the process forward. Pakistan looks forward to continued engagement in achieving positive results in the reconciliation process.”
The Prime Minister said the Government and the people of Pakistan have demonstrated an unflinching resolve to uproot the menace of terrorism and violent extremism from their soil.
“The consensus-based military operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ and the National Action Plan have been remarkably successful in our campaign against terrorism and extremism (and) are delivering desired results.”
The Prime Minister was the co-host of the fifth Ministerial Conference, being attended by high-ranking delegations from 14 Participating States, 17 Supporting Countries and 12 International and Regional Organizations.
The theme of the Conference is “Enhanced Cooperation for Countering Security Threats and Promoting Connectivity in the Heart of Asia Region.”
President Ashraf Ghani in his remarks identified the elements driving the conflict in his country including the Daesh, and the Taliban groups, both within Afghanistan and in the region.
“We are fighting against terrorists on behalf of all you, but the entire Afghan nation is suffering.” He mentioned the “vicious attack” by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan at a school in Peshawar and said the Afghan government has till now launched 40 operations against the perpetrators.
He called for a mechanism of regional cooperation to check the criminal groups and deal with the network.
Ghani mentioned the statement by Prime Minister Sharif in support of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and said his words would go a long way. He said both he and Sharif did not believe in blame games.
“We want to create verification mechanisms to find factors of insecurity and instability in the region,” Ghani said.
He said Afghanistan had learnt from 300 years of discord that politics must be a win-win formula.
In terms of security, he said the main objective of the enemies of Afghanistan was to divide it, however, he added that the key goal of the Afghan government was to generate peace.
He called for a multi-dimensional peace, where all countries could count on each other.
Ashraf Ghani said Afghanistan was becoming firmly anchored in South Asia in terms of development and mentioned a series of projects relating to highways, energy and railways.
He said in near future, the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan passing to Pakistan through Afghanistan would be inaugurated.
The Afghan President said thirty-six percent of Afghanis live below poverty line and seventy percent on two-dollar a day earning.
He said the Heart Of Asia secretariat should do a study of opportunities missed last year due to no cooperation between states. He said cooperation of states would lead to double-digit growth in the region.
The Afghan President described Afghanistan as an anchor of connectivity between South and Central Asia and said it was focusing on its potentials.
He said his government was transforming nine military airbases into regional economic zones that would create jobs and generate revenue for Afghanistan.
Ghani was also appreciative of Pakistan for hosting the Afghan refugees. He also mentioned that his country was host to about 350,000 to 500,000 Pakistani refugees in Afghanistan.
Afghan President Ghani welcomed the engagement of Turkey, Kazakhstan, China, the United States and from other neighbours from India to Azerbaijan for voicing for common cause.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said working for the achievement of a peaceful neighbourhood was a cardinal principle of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
“We firmly believe that peace is vital for development and development is vital for durable peace.”
Sharif said by adhering to these principles, Pakistan remains committed to strengthening its relations with all its neighbours and regional countries, as well as promoting regional cooperation and connectivity.
He said for Pakistan, Afghanistan was more than a neighbour.
“Our cordial ties are rooted in shared history, common religion, cultural and linguistic affinities and people-to-people relations since times immemorial. Due to these close bonds between our peoples, Pakistan has always stood by Afghanistan,” the Prime Minister said.
The Prime Minister said during the past half a century, external interventions have seriously eroded peace, stability and socio-political cohesion of the Afghan society.
“It is important that efforts for durable peace and stability should hinge upon respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and the inherent values of Afghan society.” he said.
He said it was his conviction that without peace and security, countries of the region cannot achieve the desired socio-economic development.
“The scourge of terrorism that has been plaguing our region for many years requires a firm and coordinated response on the part of all of us,” he said.
Pointing to the emergence of newer and more threatening terrorist groups like Daesh, the Prime Minister called for further strengthening resolve against terrorism.
“We should envisage collective and coordinated measures on the regional security front, to ensure that the gains in the struggle against terrorism are durable and irreversible.”
The Prime Minister said the efforts for long term stability in Afghanistan should envisage the return and resettlement of Afghan refugees to their homeland, in a dignified manner.
“Massive cross-border movement of refugees constitutes a security risk and is exploited by the miscreants for their nefarious designs,” he pointed.
Referring to the inception of the Istanbul Process in 2011, the Prime Minister said it was emerging as an important and credible initiative offering immense opportunities for participating and supporting countries in pursuit of shared objectives.
He called for intensify efforts to move forward from a conceptual domain to tangible landmarks for the implementation of concrete ideas and projects envisioned in the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process Declarations, following the political and security transitions of 2014.
He said the theme reflects desire for promoting regional development, increasing economic and trade linkages, improving quality of life for peoples and meeting security challenges to achieve these objectives.
Sharif said the Heart of Asia initiative should not be seen in isolation and added it can be linked to several other regional infrastructure and connectivity projects flowing along and across Afghanistan.
He said processes like RECCA, based on the concept of building east-west and north-south linkages add to the dimensions of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process.
The Prime Minister mentioned regional projects like CASA-1000, TAPI, Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and a few other mega projects with a promise of changing the economic landscape of the region.
The Prime Minister expressed confidence that the Foreign Ministers and the Heads of delegations of the participating and supporting countries would have constructive deliberation to confront the challenges and harness the potential of a well-integrated region.
He hoped that the Islamabad Declaration would identify a way forward to the participants of the Heart of Asia Process for strengthening regional connectivity, in pursuit of a better future for our peoples. Agencies