ISLAMABAD: The Advisor to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz Wednesday assured the international community that Pakistan was committed to work with Afghanistan and regional and international partners to promote the common goals of peace, stability and prosperity in the region and beyond.
Addressing a seminar organized by the East West Institute “Afghanistan Reconnected: Linking energy suppliers to consumers in Asia” the Advisor said a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s vital national interest.
“We remain committed to supporting efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan in an inclusive, Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process,” he added.
He said, the two countries had agreed to work together in a number of energy and connectivity projects besides reaffirming their commitment to further strengthen trade ties under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).
He said Afghanistan has invited Pakistan for a joint investment in the Kunar Hydro Power project whose design and feasibility have been completed.
He said the project will produce 1500 MW electricity to be shared by the two countries.
Aziz said Pakistan and Afghanistan would pursue with World Bank the early finalization of 170 KM Torkham-Jalalabad new rail link connecting Peshawar with Jalalabad.
He said the two countries are also working on 11.5 KM Chaman-Spinbolduk rail link that ultimately connects Chaman with Kandahar.
“Our region is blessed with immense potentials in terms of natural resources, which if tapped efficiently can yield benefits to the entire region and Afghanistan occupies an important position in the region, straddling Central, West and South Asia,” he added.
The Advisor said Pakistan is keen to continue working with Afghanistan in pursuit of connectivity and energy projects linking Pakistan with Central Asia.
In this context, he said discussions are also continuing on extending APTTA to Tajikistan by finalizing the Tripartite Agreement under consideration of the three sides.
He said as a country struggling to emerge out of decades of instability, Afghanistan is expected to face serious challenges, which can be overcome through a sustained effort involving financial and technical support, infrastructure and human resources.
He said support of the international community for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development is crucial for reinforcing the efforts for peace and reconciliation.
Sartaj Aziz said,”We believe the Tokyo Conference is a step in the right direction in meeting Afghanistan’s development needs in the coming years.”
He said Pakistan despite its limited resources, has been extending support to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development through contributions primarily to education, health and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, worth US$ 330 million.
He said Afghanistan is ideally located to connect energy suppliers and users in its neihbourhood and beyond.
He said Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India gas pipeline (TAPI) and Central Asia South Asia (CASA-1000) are two such examples of projects which make Afghanistan a `connector’.
These projects hold substantial economic advantages for Afghanistan, in addition to speeding up its own reconstruction and development efforts, he added.
The Advisor said successful security transition by the end of December 2014, and assumption of full responsibility for peace and stability by the Afghan National Security Force and Afghan National Army would help the country prepare a helpful environment for the pursuit and development of energy and connectivity projects.
He said next year’s political transition, through successful conclusion of the Presidential and Provincial Council elections,would also be an important factor.
He said Afghanistan would require financial support, including investment in its infrastructure and institutional development, including health, education and human resource development.
He said Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan are reinforced by strong bonds of a common history, religion and culture.
He said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has clearly underlined the government’s priority in terms of addressing energy needs in the short and long term.
“We are keen on working with Afghanistan as a conduit for energy supply,” he added.
Aziz said Afghanistan has been facing conflict and instability for more than three decades. As a neighbouring country, he said, Pakistan has consistently faced the fall out of this situation.
He said for over three decades, Pakistan has been host to one of the largest refugee populations in the world, despite dwindling international support and in spite of economic difficulties.
Aziz said about three million Afghan refugees still live in Pakistan, out of which about 1.6 million are registered.
He said just last month, Pakistan has signed the Tripartite Agreement along with Afghanistan and UNHCR extending the stay of refugees till December 2015.
“We hope this time will be used to prepare for the return of the refugees to their homeland,” he added.
The Advisor said, “We continue to believe that their early, honourable and voluntary return, as well as sustainable reintegration, is possible if conducive conditions are created inside Afghanistan.”
He said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has presented a vision of a peaceful and prosperous neigbhourhood, with stable and cooperative relations with all neighbours including Afghanistan.
He said last week’s visit to Pakistan by President Karzai at the invitation of the Prime Minister was part of this vision. The visit was helpful in building trust, enhancing mutual understanding, reaffirming the commitment to work together to promote peace and reconciliation, and determining ways to strengthen bilateral relations.
Sartaj Aziz said the Prime Minister also underscored Pakistan’s desire to comprehensively up grade the bilateral relationship with Afghanistan, defined by a `strong trade and economic partnership.’
“We envisage this partnership to be placing a strong emphasis on energy and connectivity projects,” he added.