Any concerns that Afghanistan has with Islamabad should be addressed bilaterally instead of involving the United States, Pakistan’s foreign minister said on Sunday, referring to part of a joint U.S .- Afghan peace efforts agreement.
The declaration was announced on Saturday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at a ceremony to coincide with the signing of an agreement between the Taliban and the United States in Doha.
“The United States agrees to promote negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan to hammer out agreements to ensure that the stability of neither nation is compromised by acts from the other side’s territory,” reads one of the declaration’s clauses.
“They’re supposed to talk directly to Pakistan. The US is planning to withdraw, and we will always remain neighbors,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Reuters in an interview, referring to Washington’s intention to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
“If I have an issue with Afghanistan, I will not ask Washington to play a role.”
For years Pakistan and Afghanistan have been at loggerheads. Kabul blames Pakistan publicly for harboring Taliban leaders after being ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001 and providing safe havens for attacks on foreign and Afghan forces.
Islamabad has denied these allegations and blames Afghanistan for giving anti-Pakistan militants refuge to plot attacks in Pakistan, which, in turn, Kabul denies.
“You know there has been a deficit of trust and Pakistan has done its best to bridge that deficit of trust,” Qureshi said, adding that there are institutionalized mechanisms through which Afghanistan can raise “any issue under the sun” instead of turning to the United States.
He said that the US-Taliban agreement in Doha would never have happened if Pakistan had not convinced everyone that there was no military solution to the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan.
The Doha agreement was signed by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Under it, Washington agreed to a full withdrawal in 14 months, and to collaborating with allied international forces to do the same – based on the Taliban making a promise to renounce violence and sever ties with terrorist groups threatening the United States and its allies.
Qureshi said Pakistan had facilitated the accord by persuading both the Taliban and the United States to find a political settlement, adding that getting both sides to see this had not been easy.
“We have convinced the Taliban to put forward an authoritative delegation that has the capacity to implement what they agree on, and that would not have happened without Pakistan’s facilitation,” Qureshi said.
Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, who on Saturday signed the Doha Agreement on behalf of the militant group, was held in Pakistani custody for eight years after being arrested in a 2010 joint raid with U.S. agents in the Pakistani port city of Karachi where he was in hiding.
The arrest followed months of behind-the-scenes prodding by US officials who saw inaction by Islamabad as a major threat to their Afghan war strategy.
Baradar has not been handed over to Afghanistan or the United States and was released in 2018. After that, he became the head of the Taliban negotiating team, which had been holding talks with US negotiators in Doha for over a year.
“That was another demonstration of facilitation,” Qureshi said, adding, “You required someone who enjoyed the confidence of the leadership to engage (with the US) that would make the talks possible.”
Qureshi also said Pakistan played a part in pushing for the negotiation process to restart after US President Donald Trump pulled the plug on negotiations in September last year.
While the Doha talks were off, Washington’s chief negotiator, special representative Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban political delegation held talks at a meeting in Islamabad that was not publicly acknowledged in October 2019.