Record of the Joint Press Briefing by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir

Islamabad: Record of the Joint Press Briefing by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, on the conclusion of the 3rd meeting of the Working Group of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission on Reconciliation and Peace on 16 September 2011

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir

Good evening, I am sorry for having kept you waiting. Let me first of all welcome once again brother and friend, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Mr. Jawed Ludin and members of his delegation who are here in Islamabad today for the Working Group meeting of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Commission. Let me also at the outset say that Pakistan attaches great importance to its relations with Afghanistan.

Over the past few years, we have been able to invest in this relationship at all levels, from the leadership to what we do among departments, principally Foreign Offices of the two countries. We have really developed a high degree of openness, of trust, of being able to speak to each other heart to heart. I think this is something that we really value.

We are working in multiple ways in a process that has everything to do with the destiny of the two great nations, Afghanistan and Pakistan. History, the geography and a shared fate beckon us to do more.

Despite the challenges that we face today, we are working together in the spirit of great respect for the nation and leadership of Afghanistan.

We have contributed to this process of consultations. We are dealing with some of the most difficult issues which pertain to establishing durable peace in Afghanistan and in our region.

As you know there are multiple processes which are being worked by the international community. There are the regional processes, the trilateral and the quadrilateral processes, and there are the global processes. But at the core of all of this, there is essentially the Afghan-Pakistan process. As you know, we also have the Trilateral Core Group process (Afghanistan-Pakistan-US) in which we meet. I think, essentially, what we are endeavouring to achieve in this difficult domain is to establish durable peace.

We have said before and I would like reiterate that the way forward has to be determined by the people and leadership of Afghanistan.

In this endeavour, Pakistan stands ready in total solidarity with the government of Afghanistan and of course the High Peace Council which is chaired by the Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani, and in what we call the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process. Our role, as we see it, is that of one to be in full solidarity with our brothers in Afghanistan on this; and not only on this but on all other related matters.

Since we are dealing with some of the most pressing issues, the most complex issues, we have again today reaffirmed our mutual desire to come closer.

In terms of concrete outcomes, I believe that is the question which is in your minds and in the minds of our peoples, as to what has been the significance of this meeting. I would like to say that in the first place it was a good opportunity to reaffirm our mutual determination to continue to work towards a closer relationship.

This means more consultations, more coordination and more cooperation. That means not only in terms of the facilitative role that Pakistan hopes to play so far as the process of reconciliation is concerned; but also on all other related issues – related to the future of this region and of what we would like to see of shared peace and prosperity. So I would like to say that this is a work-in- progress.

We hope to have a summit level meeting hopefully next month to evaluate and take this process forward. In the meanwhile, we have agreed to maintain close contact and consultations in preparation to that substantive meeting.

I would now like to request Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Jawed Ludin to say a few words.

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin:

Thank you very much, Excellency, the Foreign Secretary. I am grateful for your warm hospitality. It is a pleasure to be back in Islamabad and thank you for the very important substantive meeting today.

First of all I would like to take this opportunity of our presence before the media to offer condolences of my people and my President for the losses that we have seen as a result of the floods. The toll it has taken on the lives is regrettable and I wanted to take this opportunity to convey that I hope the recovery process will be successful.

May I also note the appalling terrorist attacks that happened yesterday in lower Dir in which many innocent people lost their lives. Once again, I am reminded of the enemy that we share in common.

Terrorism is our common enemy. We have experienced similar but more appalling attacks in Kabul that took so much attention, three days ago. You see our countries are connected by so many bonds. Our common enemy is yet another bond that brings us together in a common sense of determination. That is a sort of background in which we have held our discussions today of the Joint Working Group of the Peace Commission.

We are on both sides, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, keenly aware of the urgency as the Foreign Secretary mentioned. We are aware of the threats that we face. We are aware of the responsibility that is on our shoulders. The most important responsibility that we have is for our two countries to take our affairs into our own hands and to cooperate to address these challenges, as the Foreign Secretary said, on a bilateral basis.

In our discussions today we focused on the next meeting of the Peace Commission which we will hold at the level of our leaders. President Karzai from our side and the Prime Minister Gilani from Pakistan will meet again next month.

The job of the Working Group at our level, was to talk about practical areas of cooperation with regard to the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan. At the second meeting of this Working Group which took place in Kabul at the end of June, we discussed the significant details of various elements of the reconciliation process. Some were urgent issues that were in front of us and some of them were long term processes.

In all respects, we depend on cooperation from our friends. We were depending on cooperation from our friends and brothers in Pakistan for that process to be successful. We hope to be able to report to our leaders the results and outcome of our discussions.

Going back to the fact that I mentioned in Kabul, we are part of one effort that is very urgently needed in this region and that is the effort to address a common enemy in order to bring peace. We are engaged at the military level, wherever required, but we have agreed that the political process and the reconciliation process is an important element of the strategy to fight against terrorism and extremism.

That is one strategy where we work together and where Pakistan’s support will be absolutely vital for the Afghan-led reconciliation process to be successful. There is no question about that.

I am glad that at the level of understanding of conveying the sense of urgency that we face in Afghanistan, there is total understanding between us. The question of practicality of course comes in. As the Foreign Secretary said there will be the question of process and we hope to be able to, as we agreed on some action points in our meeting today, make progress on those fronts. It has been a very useful and a very in-depth discussion today.

On behalf of my delegation and from the Government of Afghanistan, once again, thank you Foreign Secretary Bashir. It has always been good to see you and talk to you about important issues between us and as I have already said, it is very good to be back in Islamabad.

Q and A

Q.1. Since the establishment of Joint Commission on Peace and Reconciliation, there have been a number of meetings between the both sides. Now there are reports that the US is directly or indirectly, through countries like Germany, involved in negotiations with Taliban.

There was also the report about opening of Taliban office in Qatar. What role do you have in the negotiations which have been undertaken by America? Secondly, Pakistan has expressed concerns about cross border incursions from Afghanistan what is being done about that?

Ans 1: Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin: Thank you. I will take the second question first. We find it absolutely intolerable for any elements to be able to attack any country in our neighbourhood, particularly Pakistan, from our soil. Nothing like that could be tolerated in Afghanistan. That is very clear to our Pakistani brothers.

Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, as I said earlier, is a common enemy. There are problems in the region. The situation is complex. You should be aware that in the areas of Nuristan and Kunar in Afghanistan, there is actually a war going on between our forces supported by the international community and these elements which are threatening the peace there.

The infiltrations that you refer to were mentioned at the meeting with us today. This is not a new story obviously. For the last 10 years the most obvious character of this threat that we have suffered is the cross border infiltration. It is in the nature of this threat that it could turn in any direction. It does not have a friend. It turns against anybody.

Now on your first question with regard to the reconciliation efforts, the reconciliation process is the responsibility of the Afghans; it is for the Afghan people and the Afghan government to make decisions to reconcile with the elements who have not yet been involved in Afghanistan’s national political processes, that means Taliban who are fighting in one way another.

This process which we expect will be helped by our friends outside Afghanistan. I think the only process that will deliver proper results, that will be concrete as a process, as we mentioned earlier, will be the one which is Afghan-led and Pakistan-assisted. No other countries can help.

There are various contacts which are being made by the United States and by Germany. All of these will have to be streamlined into one common process that is essentially what we are talking about here. Our efforts are targeted at creating that single process towards peace in Afghanistan.

We would be grateful for Pakistan’s role in facilitating that process and strengthening that process. Whatever other contacts are there will have to be ultimately streamlined into this one single process.

Q.2. I would like to draw your attention to the blame game that has been going-on on both sides. What are the expectations from Pakistan? Pakistan has been responding to the requests of Afghanistan and international community. So what else is expected from Pakistan? What is your Government doing on the other side of the border where militants have created safe heaven?

Ans.2: Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin: I will say that whatever blame game has been taking place where other countries have been involved, I have no comments. But so far as Afghanistan is concerned, you will have witnessed over the last year, we have, President Karzai in fact has, led a very comprehensive sincere effort to engage Pakistan as a friend. We have not engaged in any blame game.

We have rather insisted on the fact that what we are thinking is in interest of Pakistan. What is in Pakistan’s interest is in the interest of Afghanistan. We share interests in common more than any other two countries on the planet. Our security is shared; our prosperity is shared. Our challenges and our opportunities are shared.

This understanding has driven President Karzai’s position in the last three years. I am pleased to see there is an adequate amount of confidence to have open discussions. We believe that whatever problems are still there we need to defeat them, whether they are problems that primarily affect you but obviously indirectly affect us, or the problems which affect us primarily but then affect you. We need to get where Afghanistan’s security is seen as the security of Pakistan.

Q. 3. The last time you were here for the Trilateral meeting, you highlighted the message of urgency. What distance have you been able to cover during the time which has passed since your last visit? Secondly, have you identified the groups which you want to engage in talks? For the Foreign Secretary, my question is that obviously the United States is the key factor in the reconciliation process.

When the Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan says that we need to take matters into our own hands, does it means resisting all outside involvement and talking directly by Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Ans. 3: Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin: Thank you for your question, I have emphasized today exactly that message that I had last time which is the message of urgency. I think every day that passes, adds to the validity of that point that we are running against time.

The discussion that we have had today has built on previous conversations and we have prepared the grounds for some action. Hopefully in the next weeks or so we will see some practical measures and by the time our leaders come together next month, we should be able to show some results, some practical steps. So the sense of urgency is really there.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir: Yes, I think I entirely agree with you brother. Most of the discussion today related to moving from the philosophy to which we have all agreed to practical steps. We have spent a lot of time on identifying those steps. Of course as the Deputy Foreign Minister rightly said, basically the Afghan peace and reconciliation and therefore, everything else like who is involved, those strands must be compatible with the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan and must meet the expectations of the leaders of Afghanistan. Of course the fact is there is the mechanism of the High Peace Council.

The Former President, Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is leading the High Peace Council is an eminent person. Finally, it has to be acceptable and supported by the people of Afghanistan. So in terms of what you are asking is the hierarchy of priorities. As far as Pakistan is concerned of course the top priority is Afghanistan.

We stand ready to do what we can do to help Afghanistan, not only simply to express solidarity with the great Afghan nation but also in practical terms to support the process that has been initiated under the leadership of President Karzai and the mechanism of the High Peace Council. Of course several countries are interested.

They are trying to be helpful. There are several processes which are happening now and in the near future. As far as Pakistan is concerned, we really take the cue from the government of Afghanistan because it is all about their priorities and their expectations. Whether it is the regional process or any other thing, it has to meet their expectations.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin; If I may add to the question of taking our affairs in our own hands, this is absolutely necessary. This region does have a problem. It is a region that has so much potential. It is the region that has produced some of the most glorious civilizations. We have problems that are preventing us from achieving the potential of our growth and prosperity.

There is no reason terrorism and extremism should have an address in this part of the world. Now everywhere you go around the world when the issue of terrorism comes up, people look at this side of the world. This need not be the case. We are located in the region that has some of the greatest potential for growth and prosperity. We are prevented from trying to realize that potential. Other countries will obviously be able to help in the best case scenario.

But ultimately the responsibility is ours, who are the owners of this civilization and who are ultimately responsible for the well-being of our people. We really need to feel that sense of responsibility. We need to think beyond our own interests, the limited interests of our countries and think about the region as a whole. That is what I mean by taking our affairs in our own hands.

Q. 4: I am asking this question on behalf of the parents of the kids who have been abducted by the militants in Bajaur. Is there any hope for securing their release?

Ans.4: Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin: Well, my heart goes out for those children and for their families and what they will be feeling. You should know that we are as much worried about them as you in Pakistan, and their parents.

President Karzai took this issue very-very seriously and you would have heard in the media that he actually took measures to involve the government agencies. He reached out the people of the region to seek their support. We will do everything possible to ensure their return.

This thing is a bit tricky to talk about because we should not endanger the safety of the kidnapped children. We take it seriously. We have taken all measures from the security stand point. President Karzai has clearly stated in his conversations with the media and his counterparts in the Government of Pakistan, the way he feels about the Pakistani children. There is no Pakistan and Afghanistan when it comes to that level of humanity. We feel responsible. We will do everything to ensure their safe return.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir: Your Excellency I want to thank you for your very clear expression of solidarity with the people of Pakistan in the wake of devastating floods that have affected parts of the country. With your permission I would also like to add that the Prime Minister has decided not to proceed to the UN General Assembly. He is undertaking tours to flood affected areas and to dengue affected areas. I would like to again thank you, Excellency, for clear expression of solidarity with the people of Pakistan.

For more information, contact:
Syed Haider Ali Jafri
Personal Secretary
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Government of Pakistan
Tel: +9251 921 0335 and 9056604