Pakistan has 'will and influence' to help negotiate settlement with Taliban – ex-PM

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Afghan fomer prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (2L) attends a peace conference, in Bhurban on June 22, 2019. Senior Afghan political leaders attended the peace conference in Bhurban ahead of President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad. (AFP)
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Afghan politicians and other participants pose for photograph with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, second right, after the opening session of an Afghan Peace Conference in Bhurban, 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Islamabad, Pakistan, Saturday, June 22, 2019. Dozens of Afghan political leaders attended a peace conference in neighboring Pakistan on Saturday to pave the way for further Afghan-to-Afghan dialogue. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2019

Pakistan has 'will and influence' to help negotiate settlement with Taliban – ex-PM

  • Two-day peace conference in Murree brought together more than 50 Afghan factional leaders
  • The moot lacked representation from Taliban and Kabul government

MURREE: Afghan delegates who gathered for a peace summit in Pakistan’s lush hill station of Bhurban two hours north of the capital said on Saturday that the window to find a solution to end Afghanistan’s lengthy civil war was fast closing.
The inaugural session of a two-day moot hosted by Pakistan kicked off with an address by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who called for rebuilding trust between Islamabad and Kabul.
The Afghan delegation is expected to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday (today), ahead of President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan next week.
Over 50 Afghan delegates from various political groups are attending the conference, but there are no representatives of the Afghan Taliban, the primary stakeholders in the peace process who have been fighting against foreign troops and the US-backed civilian government for years. The Kabul government is also not in attendance.
“The moment of this opportunity is brief,” said Ahmad Wali Massoud, an Afghan politician and diplomat who served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. “I think if we cannot achieve a peace settlement in the next two months, we may miss this opportunity,” he said, adding that Pakistan had a major role to play alongside other countries in the region in ensuring a negotiated settlement.
The conference, called the “Lahore process,” is one of many initiatives taken by Afghanistan’s neighbors and allies aimed at bolstering a faltering peace process to reach an intra-Afghan solution to a war entering its eighteenth year.
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been tense in recent years with Kabul accusing Pakistan of sheltering Taliban militants since US-led forces removed them from power in 2001. Islamabad denies the claims, but the US has been pushing Pakistan to use its influence over the insurgents to open direct negotiations with the Kabul government, something the Taliban have so far refused to do. Pakistan says it no longer has enough sway over the Taliban.
A conference organizer, Dr. Maria Sultan, told Arab News on Saturday that the next peace summit organized by Pakistan would include the Afghan Taliban.
Viable paths to peace and stability in Afghanistan, trade, economy, health, women’s empowerment, reconstruction, development, and regional connectivity were discussed in three sessions of the conference and were followed by a state dinner hosted by Pakistani President Dr. Arif Alvi.
Foreign Minister Qureshi said all countries involved in the Afghan multilateral peace process were “on the same page” for peace and reconciliation despite a “global flux and heightened tensions.”
“Here is an opportunity that should not be wasted and should be seized,” he said.
The conference’s most notable delegate, former Afghan Prime Minister and warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, said Pakistan had the will and influence to help negotiate a settlement with the Taliban and had shown its sincerity.
“No war can last forever,” Hekmetyar told Arab News. “All Afghans need to have a consensus for mapping the future of Afghanistan but unfortunately foreign interference and our government taking dictation from foreign forces has been an obstacle in reaching an understanding.”
“The next coalition government should be formed with the consent of the Afghan people, based on our values and through transparent elections,” he said.
Sayyid Hamid Gailani, leader of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, a party known for its religiously moderate views, said he welcomed Pakistan’s initiative to host the peace conference.
“The cream of the Afghan political and jihadist leaders have gathered here,” he told Arab News, saying they were all keen to make the intra-Afghan process successful and settle differences including with the Taliban.
“We have an extreme time constraint to achieve our objective before it’s too late. If it doesn’t bear productive results, then it runs out of steam,” he said. “And we don’t want that to happen.”

Pakistan's support for Kashmiri cause unwavering, Raheel Sharif says in Riyadh

Updated 31 October 2020

Pakistan's support for Kashmiri cause unwavering, Raheel Sharif says in Riyadh

  • Pakistani embassy in Riyadh held a seminar on the human rights situation in Kashmiri territory to mark Kashmir Black Day
  • Kashmiri self-determination is not only a moral and legally justified right, former Saudi ambassador to Pakistan says

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif said that Pakistan supports the Kashmiri cause with an "unflinching resolve."

The general's comment came during a seminar, "Human Rights Situation in Kashmir: Implications for Regional Peace and Stability," organized by the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh to observe Kashmir Black Day on Thursday.

"Let it be known that every citizen of Pakistan stands united with the people of Kashmir and supports their struggle for freedom with an unflinching resolve," said Gen. Raheel Sharif, who now leads the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, a counterterrorist alliance of Muslim countries, which is headquartered in Saudi Arabia.

"The issue of Kashmir is very close to every Pakistani’s heart as we fully understand the cause and dynamics of this struggle right from the beginning. We have closely witnessed the sufferings of our Kashmiri brethren and appreciate their resolve and valor in pursuit of their goal and fundamental human rights."

Former Pakistan army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif participates in a seminar organized in Riyadh by the Pakistani embassy to observe Kashmir Black Day on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Pakistan Embassy Riyadh via AN)

Kashmiri territory is divided between India and Pakistan, but both countries claim the region in its entirety. Crackdowns in the Indian-administered part have been escalating since August 2019, when New Delhi scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which gave Kashmiris limited autonomy and protected their domicile and employment rights.

If not reversed, the Indian regime's August move, Sharif said, will cause "further unrest in the region."

Saudi Arabia's former ambassador to Pakistan, Ali Awadh Asseri, who was one of speakers in the seminar, said that last year's change in Kashmir's status "through annexation and division of the internationally recognized disputed region," as well as subsequent lockdown and "enforced demographic shift currently underway" have aggravated the humanitarian crisis in the region.

"Kashmiri people are facing a more dangerous situation now as every passing day is marginalizing their political status and socio-economic space," he said during the seminar, as he recalled serving in Pakistan and leading Saudi relief efforts after an earthquake that devastated Kashmir in 2005.  

Saudi Arabia's former ambassador to Pakistan, Ali Awadh Asseri, participates in a seminar organized in Riyadh by the Pakistani embassy to observe Kashmir Black Day on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Pakistan Embassy Riyadh via AN)

He said the relief could not reach the Indian-administered part of the territory, as New Delhi did not grant access. "We remember that Kashmir on the other side of LOC also faced devastating effects of the earthquake but could not do much due to lack of access by the Indian authorities."

"Kashmiri people want to live their lives according to their free will and India has denied this basic right and instead chosen the path of repression," Asseri added.

"The Kashmiri demand of self-determination is not only the moral right but also legally justified under UN security council resolutions."

India on Wednesday notified new laws that allow non-Kashmiris to buy land in the disputed region, rising concerns that the new regulation would dilute the Muslim-majority character of the region.

"Contrary to Indian claims of bringing development to the Kashmir valley, the real motive remains altering the demographics of the Muslim-majority territory," Islamabad's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Raja Ali Ejaz, told Arab News after the seminar.

He added that the Pakistani government remains "fully committed to the Kashmir cause."