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There is no military solution to the Afghan conflict : Sartaj Aziz

Sartaj AzizLahore : Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz Sunday stressed upon the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues for promoting regional peace and prosperity.

The regional cooperation played an important role in ensuring the political stability, and promoting and deepening mutually beneficial economic interaction, he said during his
address at the sixth Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference held in the Indian city of Amritsar.

The Advisor said Pakistan deeply valued the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, as the forum since its formation was making important contribution in the efforts to promote
Afghanistan connectivity with the neighbouring and regional countries for durable peace and stability.

“My participation in the event, despite escalation on the Line of Control and the Working Boundary with India, is testimony to Pakistan’s unflinching commitment for lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region,” he added.

Sartaj said the Government and the people of Pakistan stood in complete solidarity with the elected government and the people of Afghanistan in furthering the objectives of
peace, stability and development in Afghanistan. He assured Pakistan’s help in achieving the objectives of HoA and stressed upon an objective evaluation of the efforts, made so far by the stakeholders in this regard.

Sartaj Aziz said the security situation in Afghanistan was very complex. “It is simplistic to blame only one country for the recent upsurge in violence. We need to have an objective and holistic view,” he added. He observed that the signing of a peace agreement by the Afghan government and Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan and its implementation would serve as model for talks with other insurgent groups in future.

He underlined the need to address through effective and collective efforts the continuing wave of terrorism and violence in Afghanistan which had claimed scores of human lives.

The advisor said the peace talks process between Afghan government and Taliban had not produced positive results.Pakistan was making serious efforts for facilitating the peace talks through the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG). He urged all the members of the QCG to continue their efforts for talks between the Afghan government and Taliban.   “In our view, there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict and all our efforts should be to achieve a politically negotiated settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process,” he added.

Sartaj also regretted the postponement of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit scheduled in Islamabad, by saying that it was a setback to the efforts for promoting regional cooperation and undermined its spirit.

The Advisor has arrived India on Saturday to represent Pakistan in the two-day Heart of Asia (HoA) key moot with focus on regional cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours and the efforts for durable peace in the war-ravaged country during the transition period.

Indian Prime Minister and President of Afghanistan jointly inaugurated the ministerial conference which is being attended by around 40 foreign ministers and dignitaries of 14
participating countries.

The Advisor, highlighting the significance of regional connectivity, said it could stimulate economic development and cited Pakistan’s efforts in building its national rail,  road and energy transmission network to meet the growing regional transport needs.
He said the focus was on the modern state of the art infrastructure through China Pakistan Economic Corridor  (CPEC).

There was immense potential for connecting Pakistan’s transportation and energy infrastructure with Afghanistan  and other countries of the West and Central Asia, he added.

He informed the two countries were already part of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), planned transport corridors five and six, adding Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif had also announced Pakistan’s joining of Ashgabat Agreement and the Lapiz Lazuli Corridor.

Besides, Pakistan was expediting the energy connectivity projects including Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Central Asia-South Asia (CASA-1000) with the regional countries.

Sartaj reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to enhancing facilitation for transit of Afghan goods through its territory and emphasized upon joint efforts for improvements in the
Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).

Recounting Pakistan’s efforts to host millions of Afghan refugees in the past three decades and their repatriation process, he said it was engaged with Afghanistan and the UNHCR in the ongoing return process to their homeland with honour and dignity.
He informed that they were working to extend refugees’ stay in Pakistan till December 31, 2017 and keep their voluntary return smooth and orderly.

The Advisor also appreciated the progress made by Afghanistan under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani  and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. He also noted that Afghan security forces were firmly and bravely facing the militant and terrorist attacks.

Sartaj welcomed the hosting of 7th Ministerial Heart of Asia Conference in Azerbaijan next year and said Pakistan had already co-hosted the event in Islamabad last December and would continue to actively participate in the meetings and the process.

Later; Sartaj Aziz said at a press conference soon after his arrival here from his 24-hour visit to Amritsar to attend the Heart of Asia Conference.Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz Sunday said India could not succeed in its attempts
to damage Paksitan’s relations with Afghanistan and creating differences between the two brotherly states. “Indian attempts cannot impact our relations with Afghanistan, which are based on strong links of religion, history, culture and at people-to-people level”. He said Indian efforts to separate the ‘conjoined twins’ – Pakistan
and Afghanistan – would not bring any favourable result for it.

He said Pakistan was concerned about terrorism in Afghanistan,a country which had suffered a lot. He, however, stressed that making efforts for stability and peace in Afghanistan was a joint responsibility.

Referring to his meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Sartaj Aziz said he reassured him of the commitment made by Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif during his 2015 Kabul visit to not let his country’s soil used against Afghanistan.

However, he said Afghanistan needed to cooperate with Pakistan on border management so as to check movement of terrorists and drug smugglers.

Reacting to the statement of President Ghani at the Heart of Asia Conference, Sartaj Aziz said it was “regrettable” but “understandable” in a way that it was result of the anxiety due to the increased level of bomb blasts and terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

Sartaj Aziz said the Amritsar Declaration issued at the conclusion of Heart of Asia Conference was a ‘balanced statement’, however, the Indian media tried to project the reference to Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Haqqani network to pressurize Pakistan.”But, if you carefully read the declaration, it also mentioned TTP (Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan), Jamat-ul-Ahrar and many other regional organizations like Daesh, ILU and Jandullah because the context was not the terrorism in Afghanistan but in the region.”

The declaration, he added, in fact called upon all the countries to take action in accordance with their national counter-terrorism policies and in case of Pakistan, it was all part of its National Action Plan.

The Adviser said Pakistan did not need to be pressurized on counter-terrorism, because it had done more than any other country in the world during last three years.  “We are not doing it under any external pressure, but in our own national interest and security,” he emphasized.  At the conference, Sartaj said he presented in his statement
‘an objective assessment of the challenges’ Pakistan and Afghanistan were facing at present and highlighted the importance of a politically-driven solution.

He said at the HoA forum, he also pointed that the security situation in Afghanistan needed a holistic approach for the complex scenario in presence of several groups within the country and foreign elements.

The Adviser said on the sidelines of conference, he held meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and discussed bilateral cooperation particularly in the wake of lifting of sanctions. With the Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rasit Meredow, Sartaj
Aziz said the ‘useful meeting’ was held where the latter was appreciative of the prime minister’s recent statement on joining the Lapis Lazuli corridor project. He said the timings and mechanism of the project were discussed.

The progress on TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline, he said, was discussed, which was no longer a gas project only, but also boasted fibre optic, a number of communication projects and electric lines.

During the meeting with the Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister,Sartaj said, peace in Afghanistan and ways to carry on the Quadrilateral Coordination Group process were discussed.He said there were no bilateral meetings held or requested with the Indians. He, however, mentioned brief interactions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitly and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to whom he “met, shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.”

On not allowing him to hold a press conference in Amritsar, Sartaj Aziz said he could not meet the Pakistani journalists because of stringent security measures and was informed that no one was being allowed to visit the hotel of his stay during a certain time period.
He agreed that the treatment meted to Pakistani media persons in Amritsar, who were visiting the city to cover the conference, “was not good’.

To a question on visiting India a day prior as earlier scheduled,he said due to a report of morning fog by the air traffic control, he decided to reschedule to timely attend the conference that was to start by 10 am.

On dialogue with India, Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan wanted peace and bilateral dialogue, however, “dialogue through media raises hostility.” He said India’s agenda against Pakistan had a political element as their elections were nearing and fanning anti-Pakistan sentiments suited them.

Sartaj Aziz said blaming Pakistan on supporting terrorists was India’s excuse to divert international attention from their ongoing atrocities in Kashmir. “Kashmir is a reality, Why 700,000 army personnel have been deployed in the Kashmir valley,” he pointed out.He said Pakistan was firm on its stance on Kashmir and wanted dialogue with India to reduce tension on the Line of Control which was resulting in killing of innocent lives.
About the outcome of his visit to Amritsar to attend Heart of Asia meeting, he said there was no expectation of any breakthrough,and termed it a continuous process for Afghan peace.

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