ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday he would work with the president of Tajikistan to ensure there was peace in Afghanistan and an inclusive government was formed in the war-torn country, as leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council met in Dushanbe and called on the world not to abandon Afghanistan.
World powers have told the Taliban the key to peace and development is an inclusive government acceptable to all people of Afghanistan, including women and minorities. But an all-male interim cabinet announced earlier this month saw key positions going to veteran players of the Taliban movement.
The Persian-speaking Tajiks of Afghanistan’s western and northern regions have long been opposed to the southern and eastern Pashtuns who make up the core of the Taliban.
The Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan states in Central Asia share a border with landlocked Afghanistan.
“We just wish and pray that finally after 40 years of conflict there will be peace in Afghanistan,” Khan said while addressing the Pakistan-Tajikistan Business Forum in Dushanbe, where he arrived yesterday, Thursday, to attend the 20th Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council of Heads of State (SCO-CHS) summit.
“It’s extremely important for our [Pakistan-Tajikistan] trade for there to be peace there [in Afghanistan] so there’s better connectivity.”
He added: “I will be meeting your president. Your president and myself will be trying everything to make sure that there is peace, especially between the two major communities, Pashtuns and Tajiks. We will be doing our best that they get together and there is an inclusive government.”
Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the information minister, who is accompanying the PM to Dushanbe, said in a recorded video message:
“All regional leaders agree that if a stable government in Afghanistan is to be achieved then the country should not be abandoned. It should be rather engaged. Afghans should not be left alone at this critical juncture. Efforts should continue for an inclusive government there.”
“There is a consensus on these issues,” Hussain said.
This is PM Khan’s first visit to Tajikistan where the plenary session of the SCO summit will be held today, Friday. Afghanistan will be at the top of the agenda for the meet, with participating leaders likely to demand the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan, ask Taliban to prevent the country from becoming a militant safe haven, and discuss ways to tackle an impending humanitarian crisis there.
“While there is a realization among the SCO leaders that Afghanistan should not be abandoned, Taliban government is unlikely to win the region’s recognition during the summit,” Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported. “Afghanistan has an observer status at the SCO, but it has not been invited for the summit because the members of the bloc do not recognize its new government.”
Russian Special Presidential Envoy for SCO Affairs, Bakhtiyer Khakimov, said in an interview with TASS news agency: “At this stage, all member states have an understanding that there are no reasons for an invitation until there is a legitimate, generally recognized government in Afghanistan.”
PM Khan meets SCO leaders
After attending the business forum, Khan had a meeting and discussed Afghanistan and other bilateral and regional issues with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan.
“The Prime Minister particularly emphasized the importance of connectivity and Pakistan’s pivotal position in providing the shortest access route to the sea,” a statement from the Pakistani foreign office said. “The Prime Minister also highlighted the significance of Trans-Afghan railway project connecting Termez-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Jalalabad-Peshawar.”
Khan also Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran, and with Alexander Lukashenko, President of the Republic of Belarus, on the sidelines of the SCO summit.
Raisi, according to a statement by the Iranian presidency, said: “We should try to help Afghanistan form a government that includes all groups based on the will of the people of the country. The key to solving Afghanistan’s problems is to form an inclusive government and prevent foreign interference in the country’s affairs.”
Meanwhile, Lukashenko and Khan “exchanged views on the situation in Afghanistan,” the Pakistani foreign office said.
“The Prime Minister stressed that the international community must stand by the Afghan people, help avert a humanitarian crisis, and take steps to stabilize the economy. The Prime Minister reiterated Pakistan’s full support to efforts for stabilization of Afghanistan and hoped that the international community will play a positive role in this regard.”
Khan also renewed his invitation to President Lukashenko to visit Pakistan while Lukashenko invited Khan to visit Belarus at the earliest.
Pakistan-Tajikistan Business Forum
In June, PM Khan attended the Pakistan-Uzbekistan “Silk Route Reconnect” Business Forum and signed a significant transit agreement with Uzbekistan to allow Tashkent to utilize Pakistani seaports for much of its trade, bypassing Iran.
Uzbekistan is a landlocked country that heavily relies on Iran’s Bandar Abbas port for international business and commerce. Islamabad wants to tap the unlocked states through its deep-sea Gwadar port in southwestern Balochistan to boost its geo-economic position in the region.
Central Asia also offers Pakistan a $90 billion export market.
Khan also signed deals for the transportation of goods, cooperation between chambers of commerce of both countries, education, culture and tourism during the June trip.
The Pakistani foreign office said on Thursday the PM’s visit to Tajikistan this week was part of Pakistan’s deepened engagement with Central Asia and its focus on enhancing political ties, trade and investment, energy and connectivity, security and defense, and people-to-people contact.
On Thursday, Khan met and interacted with members of the business communities of both Pakistan and Tajikistan in Dushanbe.
“I believe we have some 67 companies here from Pakistan today, in different fields of textiles, minerals, pharmaceuticals,” the PM said at the business forum.
He praised Tajikistan for being a “very resourceful country.”
“You have cheap, clean hydroelectricity and in Pakistan, unfortunately, we have very expensive electricity,” Khan lamented.
“And so, we hope that CASA-1000 will be expedited so that we can also benefit from your clean and cheap energy,” the PM said, referring to a regional electricity generation project linking Central Asia and South Asia.
He said Pakistan, with its 220 million population, offered a “huge market” to Tajikistan and an opportunity to expand the existing “minuscule” trade volume of $80 million.
“We hope and I invite you [Tajikistan’s business community], our business community will invite you, and I assure you that we will facilitate you in every way,” he said. “I can assure you that we will be giving you all the incentives, the government will do everything to make it easier for you to do business.”