The 4th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on 13 April 2023. China, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia participated in the meeting and were represented by their foreign ministers.
The Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan mechanism was established in 2021 on Pakistan’s initiative with a view to evolving a regional approach to the situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan hosted the first meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Neighboring Countries on 8 September 2021 and participated in the second meeting held in Tehran, Iran in November 2021, and the third meeting held in Tunxi, China in March 2022.
Afghanistan is an important country in the region as it is located on the ancient silk route, connecting East and West, East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, and Eurasia. Unfortunately, unrest, war, conflicts, and instability is prevailing in Afghanistan for almost four long decades. Due to instability, in Afghanistan, the entire region suffered a lot, no economic activities, enhanced terrorism, drug trafficking, etc., have prevented the whole region from significant developments. Especially the most suffered countries are its immediate neighbors, the worst affected country is Pakistan. Pakistan has suffered more casualties and loss of precious human lives, much more than collective losses by all other nations. The economic loss was huge and beyond the capacity of Pakistan.
Naturally, it was utmost desire of Pakistan to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan, it will be in the best interest of the entire region as well as globally. Pakistan always appreciated any measures taken by any country in this direction, and support all peace initiatives throughout history. Pakistan’s initiative of calling meetings and forming a group of neighbors of Afghanistan became quite effective.
The agenda of the 4th meeting of the group was:-
• To cooperate with Afghan authorities to maintain political stability and to prevent the
prevailing humanitarian crisis.
• To counter the threats of terrorism and drug trafficking from the Afghan territory.
• To find a sustainable long-term solution to Afghan Crisis.
Pakistan was represented by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar. She is an outspoken, visionary, young leader in Pakistan, and has a deep grip on Afghan issues. She has highlighted all aspects of the Afghan crisis and proposed the followings:-
One, unity of purpose and synergy of effort within the region remains imperative. We should not only continue to hold regular consultations but also evolve common strategies and shared perspectives on Afghanistan. Pakistan believes that the three Working Groups, on the political and diplomatic, economic and humanitarian, and security and stability dimensions, established during our last meeting, provide a useful framework to follow up on the decisions taken during our meetings, and should be fully operationalized.
Two, connectivity has remained a pipe dream for far too long. This must change – we must turn this ‘constraint’ into a conduit for regional peace and prosperity. Every big dream has a humble origin – we must adopt a step-by-step approach, identifying projects, consolidating and implementing them, as critical building blocks for a common vision for regional connectivity. Connectivity projects such as CASA-1000, Trans-Afghan Railways, TAPI, and others, are not merely economic undertakings, they are also strategic investments in our shared future – an effective counterpoise to the threat of terrorism, drug trafficking, and other challenges confronting Afghanistan. As a first step, a dedicated ‘Connectivity Fund’ to provide priority financing for these projects should be considered.
Three, Pakistan firmly believes that humanitarian support should remain delinked from any political considerations. The common Afghan people should not be made victims of political choices made by others. Continued and sustained humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan must, therefore, be ensured. The international community should also remain cognizant of the pressing needs of the neighboring countries, hosting millions of Afghan refugees. This is a collective responsibility of the international community; it should be borne collectively.
Four, beyond the confines of humanitarian assistance, we should focus on generating economic activity within Afghanistan to ensure a sustainable future, avoid economic meltdown, and prevent an exodus of refugees. Exploring realistic pathways toward unfreezing Afghanistan’s financial assets would be a key first step. A roadmap for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan is equally important. Since peace and stability are a strategic imperative for the region, we, as key stakeholders in a stable Afghanistan, should remain at the forefront of this effort.
Five, we should devise a roadmap of cooperation with the Afghan authorities based on a ‘hierarchy of priorities, especially where the Interim Afghan Government has shown a commitment to act. We particularly welcome the renewed emphasis placed during this meeting on strengthening counter-terrorism cooperation between Afghanistan and the neighboring countries. Training and capacity-building programs in other avenues should also be devised.
Six, greater coordination between regional and international efforts in Afghanistan remain equally important. As the representative voice of over 1.8 billion Muslims across the world, the OIC enjoys a unique stature and standing within Afghanistan unmatched by other international organizations. The OIC has taken a number of initiatives including the establishment of the Humanitarian Trust Fund and the Afghan Food Security program. Building synergies with the OIC, including the OIC Trust Fund, would amplify our collective efforts to help and assist the Afghan people.
Seven, we cannot talk of the Afghan people without talking to them. Constructive engagement with the Interim Afghan Government remains imperative. As friends and neighbors, we don’t have the luxury to disengage with Afghanistan.
All the participating countries have shared their views and suggestions. It is believed that the Afghan issue will be solved in the very near future and a stable Afghanistan will contribute to regional and global developments.