APP106-09 ISTANBUL: December 09 - Foreign Minister, Makdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi addressing Heart of Asia Conference on Afghanistan. APP

ISLAMABAD, Dec 9 (APP):Minister for Foreign Affairs Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi Monday said achieving the goal of a secure and stable Afghanistan was essential for the economic progress and prosperity of the entire region.

Addressing the 8th ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process in Istanbul, he said neither any nation could claim to have stronger and more historic bonds with Afghanistan, nor any country was more desirous of peace, stability and prosperity there than Pakistan, according to a Foreign Office press release.

Qureshi said Pakistan continued to host over three million Afghan refugees for the last four decades, and had been playing a critical role for the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan, including by committing over $1 billion in development assistance.

Naturally, such close links, he said, also raised challenges for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, including spillover of insecurity in Afghanistan to Pakistan, nexus between drug trafficking and terrorist groups, and lack of progress in realizing regional connectivity projects.

He highlighted the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) as an important institutional framework in strengthening bilateral relations between the two sides.

In the regional context, he said Pakistan hosted the third China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue in Islamabad on September 7, 2019 which had helped deepen the interaction.

The foreign minister underlined that the recent resumption of efforts for reaching peace and stability in Afghanistan was a positive development, and expressed Pakistan’s wish to see the peace process lead to inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations.

He viewed that a military-focused approach simply exacerbated the miseries of the common Afghans. Within the perspective of peaceful resolution, Pakistan wholeheartedly supported and facilitated the US-Taliban talks.

He told the international gathering that Pakistan also supported the efforts for the release of professors Kevin King and Timothy Weeks, and “we are pleased that they are finally safe and reunited with their families.”

At the same time, he cautioned against the “spoilers” in view of their vested interests. He urged the international community to seize the opportunity for achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan by reaching a broad regional and international consensus.

Notwithstanding the challenges, he said deepening Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan in all fields remained Pakistan’s highest priority.

“Our endeavour is to enhance trade and economic ties, facilitate people-to-people contacts, and increase regional connectivity. The opening of Torkham crossing-point on 24/7 basis is part of this vision and clearly aimed at supporting Afghanistan in its efforts for peace and progress,” the foreign minister remarked.

He urged the participating countries to also focus on prioritizing physical connectivity through transport, communications and energy projects as well as simplification of practices, regulations, legislation and agreements in the areas of trade and transit to facilitate the flow of goods and services.

Foreign Minister Qureshi also called on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the meeting.

Reiterating the historic and fraternal relations between the two countries, Qureshi conveyed the warmest and sincerest wishes for the people and the Government of Turkey on behalf of the people and the Government of Pakistan on the occasion.

He also held a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu wherein the two sides expressed their desire to continue expanding their relations in new areas of mutual interest, particularly by expanding bilateral economic relations.

The foreign minister also held a brief interaction with the Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice G Wells, on the side-lines of the meeting, during which matters relating to enhancing Paki-Afghan bilateral trade were discussed.