Islamabad hopeful talks with Kabul to repair ties soon

ISLAMABAD (Dawn/ ANN) - Beijing hosts first round of trilateral dialogue; Wang Yi says China, Pakistan will look at extending CPEC to Afghanistan

 Pakistan is optimistic that its comprehensive bilateral dialogue with Afgha­nistan for normalising ties will commence shortly.

“There is a response now from our brothers in Afghanistan [to a proposal for dialogue]. I think things will start moving on the formation of the five groups on different topics entailed in this proposal and there will be progress on this proposal,” Foreign Minister Khaw­aja Asif said at a joint news conference in Beijing after first round of Pakistan-China-Afghanistan trilateral talks hosted by Beijing.

Pakistan and Afghanistan had during a visit by Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to Kabul on Oct 1 agreed on having comprehensive bilateral engagement agenda.

Later Pakistan shared with Afghanistan a blueprint for engagement called ‘Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Solidarity’ envisioning “constructive and meaningful bilateral engagement” in political, economic, military and intelligence domains through working groups. President Ashraf Ghani had acknowledged the proposal in his statement at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process held in Baku on Dec 1, saying it would provide the basis of a dialogue.

Discussion on the proposal was on the agenda of the trilateral meeting and it is said that China encouraged both sides to formalise the mechanism. There were, however, indications prior to this meeting that Islamabad and Kabul had taken tentative steps towards materialising the understanding as they had a couple of weeks ago agreed to place liaison officers at each other’s army headquarters and establish ground coordination centres.

Foreign Minister Asif said: “China is fully supportive of this effort and today during the discussions, it was part of our deliberations and this proposal is practically, if I may so, part of the dialogue, which took place today.”

China has over the years got itself increasingly involved in Afghanistan. Besides, its bilateral engagement with both Islamabad and Kabul it is part of a number of international processes on Afghanistan. However, this year China has put special emphasis on normalising tense Pak-Afghan ties.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had in June undertaken a shuttle diplomacy mission to Kabul and Islamabad for defusing tensions between the two countries. It was during that trip that the trilateral foreign ministers dialogue between Pakistan, China and Afghanistan was agreed, which Beijing has hosted now.

Beijing’s interest in Afghanistan is out of its security concerns related to presence of Uighur militants in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province. Moreover, China’s regional engagement is driven by its economic investment in Afghanistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For Beijing peace and stability in Afghanistan are critical for both its own security and investments in Pakistan.

Mr Asif, while speaking at the news conference in Beijing, credited his Chinese hosts for progress on the new Pak-Afghan dialogue mechanism.

Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, meanwhile, said: “We are confident that China will play its role as an honest broker and someone that both countries believe and are happy to work with.”

Wang Yi said he had been assured by both Islamabad and Kabul that they would move to normalise their ties “as soon as possible”.

The three countries have together agreed to begin negotiations on an accord for countering terrorism.

“The three sides agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism coordination and cooperation in an effort to combat all terrorist organisations and individuals without any discrimination. The three sides will communicate and consult on developing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Counter-Terrorism Cooperation,” a communiqué issued at the end of the talks said.

Islamabad, Beijing and Kabul also jointly called on “Afghan Taliban to join the peace process at an early date”.

The second round of trilateral foreign ministers’ dialogue will be held in Kabul next year.

CPEC extension to Afghanistan

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang said China and Pakistan would look at extending their $57 billion CPEC to Afghanistan, according to news agencies, part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road plan linking China with Asia, Europe and beyond.

He said China hoped the economic corridor could benefit the whole region and act as an impetus for development.

“Afghanistan has urgent need to develop and improve people’s lives and hopes it can join inter-connectivity initiatives,” Mr Wang told reporters, as he announced that Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed to mend their strained relations.

“So China and Pakistan are willing to look at with Afghanistan, on the basis of win-win, mutually beneficial principles, using an appropriate means to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan,” he added.

How that could happen needs the three countries to reach a gradual consensus, tackling easier, smaller projects first, he said, without giving details.

Khawaja Asif said: “The successful implementation of CPEC projects will serve as a model for enhancing connectivity and cooperation through similar projects with neighbouring countries, including Afghanistan, Iran and with central and west Asia.”

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