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GENEVA, Nov 21 (APP): Participants in virtual high-level consultations organized by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, have praised the generosity of Pakistan and Iran in hosting millions of Afghan refugees for over four decades, and hoped for the success of the ongoing peace negotiations to enable them to return to their homeland.

The event was held ahead of the two-day Afghanistan Conference beginning on November 23. It is being co-hosted by Finland, Afghanistan and the United Nations (UN) Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi was among 175 distinguished participants who discussed the issues faced by refugees in their returns and reintegration to their homeland. His participation and the recent visit to Kabul of Prime Minister Imran Khan elevated Pakistan’s role as a leading refugee host country and a key player in the region, diplomats said.

Opening the discussion, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his brief video remarks, said the intra-Afghan negotiations was a “unique opportunity” and urged all parties to move towards stability and peace.

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President Alvi welcomed the peace negotiations and intra-Afghan dialogue as a harbinger of peace paving the way for return of refugees. The Afghans, he said, should themselves decide their future.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the refugees’ return should be well-planned and organized. “If overlooked or implemented in bad manner and with poor resources, the process of returnees could lead to further destabilization’, he said, adding, “We must avoid bad strategies”.

President Ghani outlined the efforts of his government to promote economic growth in the country through participatory methods and encouraging innovation. The peace process has highlighted the need for the return of Afghan refugees, and they contribute in the rebuilding efforts. He called for the international community’s consistent support to Afghanistan.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, United States (US) Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, in his video statement, underscored the need for securing the achievements of the last twenty years.

The US, he said, had worked hard with neighbouring countries to bring peace in Afghanistan. He said that intra-Afghan dialogue had made progress in recent days.

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Khalilzad called for reduction in the level of violence and for reaching the ultimate ceasefire, and reiterated US support to the Afghan people.

Gareth Bayley, United Kingdom Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, paid tributes to Pakistan and Iran, the main hosts to Afghan refugees. He said the refugees return should be voluntary.

Bayley said strong political will existed for peace in Afghanistan, as reaffirmed by Prime Minister Imran Khan and Afghan President Ghani on Thursday.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, who was the main host, lauded the hospitality of host countries, particularly major hosts-Pakistan and Iran. He thanked the president of Pakistan for joining the consultations.

He said he was concerned about recent surge in violence in Afghanistan, and hoped that the peace talks would continue to make progress.

Other speakers also spoke of their desire to see restoration of peace in Afghanistan so that refugees could return in honour and dignity.