February 03, 2018

First Pak-Afghan joint working group meeting today

ISLAMABAD: The first-ever meeting of Pakistan and Afghanistan joint working group is scheduled to be held in Kabul today (Saturday) as a frosty welcome awaits Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua as she lands in freezing temperature in Kabul today (Saturday), with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday accusing Pakistan of failing to move against the Taliban, calling it “Taliban Centre”.

Mistrust and suspicions are at a new high after some deadly back-to-back attacks in Kabul, for which fingers are pointing towards the Afghan Taliban operating from safe sanctuaries inside Pakistan.

However, after the recent meeting with Afghan officials this week in Pakistan, both sides agreed to strengthen the bilateral engagement and counter-terrorism cooperation. Pakistan responded by saying that the handing over of 27 suspects to the Afghan authorities indicates that Pakistan’s sincerity, cooperation and collaboration is underway.

“We reject any allegations of support to the Haqqani network or the Taliban and of them to using our soil. Pakistan has been taking action against all terrorist groups in its territory. It is our commitment to eradicate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” says the Foreign Office.

Hours before Ms Janjua and her delegation participate in the first scheduled meeting of Pakistan and Afghan five joint working groups, Ghani referring to a spree of attacks which have killed hundreds of Afghans remarked, “The attack is not against our men, women or children but against the Afghan nation and it requires a national, comprehensive response,” Ghani said, saying proof of Pakistan’s involvement had been shared with Pakistan’s government.

However, there still appears to be a glimmer of hope that some headway could be made on Saturday as the recent visit of the Afghan representatives in which they shared information against Pakistan is being investigated by authorities here.

Pakistan will face a tough task to ensure that there is a cooperative spirit during Saturday’s Kabul meeting instead of mere rhetoric so that a serious and realistic way forward is chalked out to, “ensure comprehensive engagement in the areas of counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing, military, economy, trade and transit interaction, refugees’ repatriation and connectivity.”

Kabul has also rejected Pakistan’s announcement that 27 Afghan Taliban were handed over to Kabul in November, questioning why the Foreign Office took over two months to announce what were 27 common Afghan criminals and not militants. The Foreign Office had earlier explained that it was Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who had floated the proposal during his talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul last October.

"In the follow-up to that visit (of the army chief) five working groups are being formulated on the basis of a proposal made by Pakistan. This will help to boost cooperation in different areas including security and intelligence sharing”, the Foreign Office had said.

On Friday the spokesman at the Foreign Office added further that these five working groups, will "enhance cooperation on counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing, military, economy, trade and transit interaction, refugees' repatriation and connectivity".

The Foreign Secretary is well prepared to dwell on the issue of the 27 Afghan militants handed to Kabul with the spokesman commenting,

“Certainly, if this issue is raised, it will be responded accordingly. However, the handing over of 27 suspects to the Afghan authorities indicates that Pakistan’s sincerity, cooperation and collaboration is underway. So far, we haven’t received any formal response from the Afghan side regarding this matter”, he told the weekly media briefing.

All international reports, including those from the United States, have indicated that vast swathes of territory in Afghanistan is being used by a number of terrorist groups like Deash, TTP, JuA as sanctuary.

“Blaming Pakistan for security lapses inside Afghanistan is unfair, especially when such large spaces and support to these elements is available within the country”, said the spokesman. Pakistan is not the enemy, he said and added, “We believe that the true enemy of Afghan people is the endless cycle of violence. This conclusion is informed by our four decades' experience of facing blow back of instability in Afghanistan. That is why we have consistently highlighted that there is no military path to peace in Afghanistan.”

Apart from Kabul, blame also pours in from Washington that Pakistan needs to do more. “This is precisely why we say that some elements in the US administration are trying to scapegoat Pakistan for the failures in Afghanistan. Our position is clear that Pakistan will take action against any terrorist found on its soil, if actionable intelligence is provided”, added the spokesman.

In our view, it is up to Afghanistan to achieve a political settlement among various Afghan groups. Pakistan has continued to express support to efforts for an intra-Afghan dialogue. “In this regard, we welcome the peace deal with Hizb-e-Islami and believe that it can serve as a model for future peace talks.”

The return of 2.7 million Afghan refugees back to their home will be on top of the Foreign Secretary’s agenda as well. Recently, the US has been asking Pakistan to delay their return when all world capitals have washed their hands off them, and very little economic assistance is available.

Pakistan’s recent extension of two more months also include 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees while the remaining are unregistered Afghans. “Our refugees’ policy is focused on sustainable and voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees to their homeland, with dignity. Based on this policy, the Ministry of Safron being the lead ministry is engaged with all stakeholders and government of Afghanistan for voluntary repatriation”, said the spokesman.

However, in view of continuing instability in Afghanistan, many times the refugees who return to Afghanistan are forced to come back to Pakistan. “Collective efforts of the international community and the donors for creating incentives and pull factors in the shape of low cost housing and livelihood programs are critical to ensure reintegration of returnees into Afghan economy”, he added. Important also is the fact that the Afghan Taliban use these Afghan refugee tents to escape the law once they cross the western border. Their return will deny them such a safe sanctuary.



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