Britain Bats For Indo, Pak Talks on Kashmir

Islamabad: UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Friday said that Britain supported talks between Pakistan and India to resolve the long standing Kashmir dispute.

“It is not for the UK to impose its solution to the Kashmir crisis,” he said, adding that London encouraged both Islamabad and New Delhi to hold concrete dialogue over the issue.

The question was asked in light of Syed Ali Shah Geelani (92), avowedly a pro-Pakistan supporter who spearheaded the separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir for over three decades, dying at his residence in Srinagar on Wednesday night.

The British foreign secretary arrived in Islamabad on Thursday night for talks on the evolving situation in Afghanistan and bilateral matters.

He said that it is important to engage with the Taliban government in Afghanistan for a range of reasons, including the safe passage of British citizens, but dismissed talks of recognising it officially as “premature”.

Addressing a joint press conference in Islamabad alongside Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Raab, who is Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, said it would not have been possible to evacuate some 15,000 people from Kabul without some degree of cooperation from the Taliban.

“The approach we are taking is that we don’t recognise the Taliban as a government […] but we do see the importance of being able to engage and have a direct line of communication, the reason being that there is a whole range of issues that need to be discussed including the question of safe passage of British nationals and the Afghans who worked for the UK government, he said.

Though he hoped that the Taliban would bring stability and an end to violence in the country, Raab said it was “premature” to talk about recognising the Taliban at the moment.

He noted that the Taliban had made a series of undertakings, “some of them are positive at the level of words” but there was a need to test whether they translated into deeds, which would not be possible if some channel of dialogue was not present.

To a question on the expectations from the Taliban and the dangers of pushing them towards “radical tendencies”, Raab said some early tests needed to be set on the Taliban promises and whether they had the sincerity and will to deliver on them.

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, on August 15. The last of the foreign troops left the country on August 31, bringing an end to 20 years of war amid fears of an economic collapse and widespread hunger.

Following the chaotic departure, Western states have severely restricted their aid payments to Afghanistan. Raab thanked the Pakistani government for safely evacuating British citizens. He said that the UK will continue to provide aid on humanitarian grounds.

“We will continue to help Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, including Pakistan We want to see a prosperous Afghanistan, he said. The foreign secretary also said that the UK valued its historic relations with Pakistan. “We want to further strengthen our ties with Pakistan,” he said.

Qureshi was asked if Pakistan’s relation with the Taliban will be condition-based. Qureshi said Pakistan had certain compulsions like geographical closeness, trade and daily commuting of 20,000- 25,000 people across the border, which makes the country’s stance unique.

Some have the choice of getting up and leaving (Afghanistan) but we do not. We are neighbours; we have to coexist. Geography ties us together so our approach has to be somewhat different and realistic, he said.

He said: It is up to the people of Afghanistan to decide their future government and we will accept their choice.

The foreign minister said now there was an opportunity for peace in Afghanistan after 40 years. Qureshi said Pakistan had taken legislative and administrative steps to get out of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list.

He said the issue of the UK’s Red List — highest restrictions in travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic — was discussed in the meeting with Raab and the British foreign secretary was told how the people in Pakistan felt about it.

Raab said top officials from the two countries would meet to discuss the technical aspects of the case. “We will be able to take the decision on excluding Pakistan’s name from the Red List on technical grounds,” he said.

Meanwhile, a press release issued later in the evening by the British High Commission here said Raab has held meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Qureshi and is scheduled to meet Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The discussions focused on securing a safe passage for those leaving Afghanistan, combatting terrorism, the humanitarian situation and regional stability, among other issues, it said.

Raab visited the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at Torkham, an important crossing point, to see for himself the situation on the ground. He also met members of the team supporting the current crisis response, the release said.

During the joint press briefing with Qureshi, Raab said the basis for the UK-Pakistan relationship is very strong and the UK has the desire to take it to the next level, it noted.

“We also have a very clear and shared interest in the future of Afghanistan. We will judge the Taliban by their actions, not their words, Raab said.

The Foreign Secretary underlined the UK’s commitment to help those fleeing Afghanistan, including by supporting neighbouring countries.

The UK has announced a doubling of aid to Afghanistan to 286 million pounds, and has released the first tranche of 30 million pounds of that to support Afghanistan’s regional neighbours, including Pakistan, the release said.

Dr Christian Turner CMG, the UK High Commissioner to Pakistan, said: The Foreign Secretary’s visit to Pakistan today underlines just how vital the UK-Pakistan relationship is. We are committed to working closely together to help the people of Afghanistan and promote stability in the region.

Pakistan and the United Kingdom have been closely engaged on the latest developments in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan had a comprehensive exchange of views with Prime Minister Boris Johnson telephonically on August 18, while Qureshi and Raab discussed the situation in Afghanistan twice on August 16 and 27.

Earlier, the Foreign Office had said that Raab’s Pakistan visit will reinforce the current momentum in high-level exchanges between the two countries and help strengthen bilateral cooperation on a range of issues.

Raab is the third European leader to visit Pakistan this week after German and Dutch foreign ministers visited Islamabad and met top leaders.

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