ISLAMABAD   -  Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi yesterday said that Pakistan had enormously helped the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on the issue of peace in Afghanistan. Speaking to journalists here, before leaving for Brussels, Qureshi said Pakistan was committed to eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. “We have enormously helped the US and NATO on Afghan (peace). We are determined to ensure regional peace,” he said. The minister said that during the visit, he will meet NATO General Secretary at its headquarters in Brussels. He said Pakistan had played a key role in war against terrorism and NATO had acknowledged that fact. “We believe that our relationship with NATO in defence and security matters should continue,” he added.

Qureshi said that a strategic plan had been agreed with the European Union after marathon talks. The FM said he will sign this agreement with EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. “It will begin long-term cooperation with the European Union, which is a positive development,” he maintained. Separately yesterday, Pakistan said Afghanistan is a sovereign state and its leadership may take all decisions without any external intervention to achieve lasting peace under Afghan peace process.

Addressing the concluding session of the day-long conference on Afghan Peace Process in Bhurban Murree, Minister for States and Frontier Regions Shehryar Afridi said Pakistan’s civil and military leadership was united for Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace dialogue as peaceful Afghanistan is interlinked to peace in the region and beyond. The minister said though Pakistan suffered heavily due to terrorism, weaponization, drugs mafia and other ills it never turned its back on Afghan Refugees. Speaking at the conference, various political and politico-religious stalwarts from Afghanistan pledged to give peace a chance in their war-torn country. Chief of Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, brother of late leader of Northren Alliance Ahmed Shah Massoud Ahmed Wali, Hizbe Islami leader Wahid Ullah Sabhun, Hanif Atmar and leader of Hizbe Wahdat Mardam Afghanistan Ustad Muhmmad Muhaqiq were of the view that reconciliation is the only option to come over the feuds. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said his group wanted peace at all costs in Afghanistan.

Wahidullah Sabhun acknowledged the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan and lauded its efforts to help forge peace in the region. Hanif Atmar appreciated Pakistan for accepting the sovereignty and integrity of Afghanistan as an independent state. Last day, in his speech at the inaugural session of the Afghan peace conference, Foreign Minister Qureshi had reiterated Pakistan’s unshakable resolve to support lasting peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan, besides lending support to the reconstruction and development efforts in the war-torn country. He maintained that Pakistan stood for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and remained fully committed to a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan.

About decades long conflict in Afghanistan, the minister said it had brought great sufferings to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said no one has suffered more than the people of Pakistan due to this persistent instability and conflict. Linking Pakistan’s security with the instability in Afghanistan, FM Qureshi said it continued to be deeply influenced by the security situation in Afghanistan. “Advancing the cause of peace and stability in Afghanistan is, therefore, in Pakistan’s own national interest,” he reiterated, adding mutual ties between the two countries were based upon principles of non-interference, mutual respect and common interests. On the previous mistrust between the two neighbours, he said for too long, the vicious circle of mistrust, often fed into by their common enemies, had affected their relationship. “It is indispensable to move away from this negative paradigm,” he emphasized.

HEKMATYAR DEMANDS WITHDRAWAL OF FOREIGN TROOPS

Afghanistan’s former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has praised Pakistan’s role in the ongoing peace process for his war-ravaged country. “Pakistan is a very important country and Islamabad could play a key role in bringing peace in Afghanistan and now they are doing it,” Hekmatyar told Anadolu Agency in Bhurban. “I praised Pakistan’s sincere efforts and I am sure they will continue to help bring peace in our country,” the two-time prime minister said. The Americans are also praising Pakistan’s role in bringing Taliban on the negotiating table, he said. “We welcome every country and individual who is taking any step for peace in Afghanistan. War always ends with peace and now war in our country will also end with peace,” Hekmatyar said. He demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and reiterated the need to allow the Afghan people decide their future. Hekmatyar asked the Afghan political and religious leaders to brainstorm for a system to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country.