Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Pakistan was not responsible for Afghanistan’s internal problems and was blamed and made out to be a scapegoat by Afghanistan whenever its affairs didn’t appear to be moving in the right direction.

In an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News at his office in Islamabad last week, the foreign minister said the interviewer’s question on Taliban presence and freedom of movement in Pakistan was an “exaggeration”.

“Unfortunately when things aren’t moving in the right direction, you’re (Afghanistan) looking for scapegoats and the favourite scapegoat you have is Pakistan. When there’s failure within (Afghanistan) you blame Pakistan for that.

“Pakistan is not responsible for the failure within, for the squabbling going on in Afghanistan, if the Afghan leadership can’t sit and work out a peace deal,” said FM Qureshi.

The foreign minister said that the bulk of the Taliban leadership was not in Pakistan but Afghanistan and the former was only engaging with them to “facilitate the peace process” and try to be “helpful and constructive”.

“Many have started recognising that internationally but some in Afghanistan still have that mental blockade of accepting the fact that Pakistan is being genuine, constructive and sincere because Pakistan feels it is in our enlightened interest that there is peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

Pressed again on whether the Taliban were funded in Pakistan, the foreign minister responded: “You’re stuck in the old groove. Please get out of that groove. If you remain stuck in this then believe me you will not be able to travel far and we want you to travel far.”

Qureshi stressed that Pakistan wanted Afghanistan to be peaceful and stable because that would yield mutual dividends and benefits such as regional connectivity, adding that economic security and promotion of regional bilateral trade could only be achieved through peace.

He said there were notions that Pakistan was concentrating on a particular faction but in reality, “we want to engage with and be friends with everyone and be friends with Afghanistan and Afghans.”

FM Qureshi said both countries realised there were issues between them and would always remain, hence they had agreed on a “structured and institutionalised mechanism” to sort them out when they arose, referring to the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity. He pointed out that though it was functioning, it could be used more effectively.

He also added that Pakistan would be “happy” to train Afghan security forces but so far, the Afghan leadership hadn’t taken the offer seriously. “We honestly feel that we can be of assistance […] We speak the same language, you know, culturally, we have so many similarities. They will feel at home,” said FM Qureshi.

‘Taliban willing for peace’

The foreign minister expressed the belief that the Taliban were also ready and willing for peace, due to the cost they had suffered as well in the years of fighting. Qureshi said it would be an “exaggeration” to hold the Taliban solely responsible for the increasing violence in Afghanistan, pointing out that other elements such as Daesh (Islamic State) and internal Afghan factions also played a role.

When questioned if he would be against a Taliban military takeover, the foreign minister categorically said: “We have never said, supported or advocated a takeover of Kabul by force.”

He said any decision about the form and structure of government in Afghanistan was a decision for the Afghan people.

When questioned on any continued understanding with the US with regards to Afghanistan after its withdrawal, the foreign minister said Pakistan would be willing to help further the peace process, Afghanistan’s rehabilitation and reconstruction and countering terrorism but it would not be providing military bases to the US.

Qureshi was also asked about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s comments calling Osama bin Laden a martyr in the National Assembly in June 2020, to which he said the premier’s comments had been “quoted out of context” and misconstrued by a particular section of the media.

The foreign minister was also asked about Pakistan’s domestic issues, particularly the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement and the arrests of some of its leaders to which he responded that anyone could be arrested if they broke the law and that the PTM had representation in the NA.

Similarly, he hailed the media freedom in Pakistan and claimed the press was “completely independent”. “We as democrats do not believe in gagging the press because today you cannot hide things under the carpet even if you want to because of social media and the new tools available,” Qureshi said.

He also stressed that all of Pakistan’s institutions were in “harmony” with the government and on the same page.

The foreign minister was also pressed on the Uighurs in China to which Qureshi challenged whether everything needed to be addressed publicly. He added that China was a friend of Pakistan and “you adopt a different approach with friends.”

Speaking on India’s relations with Afghanistan, Qureshi said the two countries had a right to have bilateral relations but the purported use of Afghan territory to destabilise Pakistan was a concern. He added that Pakistan had intelligence and information backing these concerns.

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