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Refugee Crisis Can be Avoided if Steps Taken to Aid Afghanistan: Qureshi

by Newsweek Pakistan

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addresses the virtual gathering of Afghanistan’s neighbors

Pakistan’s foreign minister urges global community to continue engagements with Kabul as part of confidence-building measures for Afghans

If the international community can help prevent a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and take steps against an economic meltdown, then peace can be consolidated in the war-torn state and a mass exodus of refugees avoided, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Wednesday.

Addressing a virtual meeting of his counterparts from China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan—all Afghanistan’s neighbors—he said the “key priorities” of Afghanistan were to prevent any crises that could worsen the sufferings of the Afghan people. “If a humanitarian crisis is prevented and economic stability is assured, then peace can be consolidated and a mass exodus precluded,” he emphasized.

The meeting, per a statement issued by the Foreign Office, was summoned to review the evolving situation in Afghanistan, address common challenges, and examine opportunities to ensure regional peace and prosperity. It occurred a day after the Afghan Taliban announced an interim government of 33 ministers under Prime Minister Mullah Muhammad Hassan Akhund.

According to Qureshi, all efforts to stabilize Afghanistan at this “pivotal juncture” require an enhanced engagement of the international community. “Renewed diplomatic and international presence in the country would reassure the Afghan people,” he said, adding that urgent humanitarian aid through the U.N. and its affiliated agencies would play a leading role in reinforcing the confidence-building process.

The foreign minister also criticized the U.S.’s decision to freeze Afghanistan’s treasury funds, saying allowing Kabul access to its financial resources would be “pivotal” in preventing an economic collapse and reviving economic activity.

Noting that recent events had “catapulted” the region into a global spotlight, he said the evolving situation would have profound implications for Afghanistan, the South Asian region, and the overall world. “It is clear that no one could anticipate the recent turn of events from the meltdown of security forces to the collapse of the Afghanistan government. All previous assessments and predictions proved wrong,” he said.

Stressing that the expected bloodshed had not occurred; a protracted conflict and civil war averted; and a feared mass exodus of refugees curtailed, he warned that the situation remained “complex and fluid.”

Hoping that the announcement of an interim government in Afghanistan would lead to political stabilization and normalcy, he urged the participants to abandon old concepts and embrace a new “realistic and pragmatic” approach. “At the center of our endeavors must remain the well-being of the Afghan people who have suffered enormously due to conflict and instability for over 40 years,” he added.

The foreign minister also briefed the meeting on his diplomacy tour of Central Asian states and Iran last month, saying they had agreed to chart a way forward to help address common challenges and realize opportunities that might result from the latest developments. He said the consensus was to ensure security along Afghanistan’s borders; prevent Afghan soil from being used by any terror groups; prepare for a potential influx of refugees; contain drug trafficking and transnational crimes; stem spread of extremism; examine challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic; and lessen impediments to regional connectivity. “We also agreed there are rich dividends if peace is secured in Afghanistan,” he said.

Qureshi emphasized allowing Afghanistan to pass through this “testing” time so it could realized its full potential and help achieved a “peaceful, stable, prosperous and interconnected region.” To achieve this, he said, Kabul’s neighbors needed to affirm their support and solidarity with the Afghan people; reaffirm their commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan; acknowledge that Afghan issues should have Afghan solutions; stress that Afghan soil is not allowed to be used against any country; stress the importance of national reconciliation.

Qureshi also suggested formalizing the platform established during this meeting, saying Afghanistan should also be invited in future. “Participation of Afghanistan will augment this forum’s effectiveness in pursuing our shared objectives for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he claimed.

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