Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reaffirmed his country’s commitment to its troubled northern neighbour, saying “any enemy of Afghanistan is an enemy of Pakistan” as he jointly inaugurated the Heart of Asia conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday.
The regional conference on Afghanistan began in Islamabad to intensify efforts for regional linkages and to promote peace and stability in the war-torn country.
“Afghanistan is the heart of Asia and if there is trouble in the heart, the entire region will be turbulent,” he said in his opening speech.
“Pakistan’s people and government have demonstrated an unflinching resolve to uproot the menace of terrorism and violent extremism from our soil.”
His remarks assume significance as he will be meeting Sushma Swaraj — the first by an Indian foreign minister to Pakistan since 2012 — later in the day on the sidelines of the conference.
Swaraj’s two-day visit, primarily to attend the conference, is seen as an ice-breaker as it will be the third bilateral engagement at the top level in less than 10 days following an impromptu and brief meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sharif in Paris on November 30.
Sharif welcomed the delegates, including foreign ministers — of 14 countries and promised full support to all efforts for increasing peace in the region with the emphasis on stabilising Afghanistan.
“The enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan and the (Pakistan) government will continue to support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process that remains the most viable option to promote stability and end violence,” he said.
“Terrorists like Da’ish (another name for Islamic State) should strengthen our resolve against terrorism,”
For his part, Ghani said it is “important to name all the problems the region is facing, in terms of terrorism and corruption”.
The rise of the Taliban, which carried out a brutal attack in Kandahar only a day earlier, and other groups was a major concern. “Our children have been killed, our hospitals attacked, and terrorism has now become a regional, national and global phenomenon,” Ghani said.
“Al-Qaida, Da’ish, terrorists from Russia, Uzbekistan, the Middle East and beyond are all present on our soil.”
Ghani called for a long-term solution to root out terrorism from his country as well as the region. “What is the nature of the Taliban and how do we deal with it?” he asked. “It is a problem which requires us to work on it systematically.”
(With agency inputs)