Afghan peace process making 'positive headway,' says Pakistan foreign minister

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi talks with media representatives during a ceremony in Multan, on Dec. 22, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 24 December 2018

Afghan peace process making 'positive headway,' says Pakistan foreign minister

  • Shah Mehmood Qureshi meets Afghan President Ghani and Foreign Minister Rabbani in Kabul
  • Will also visit Iran, China and Russia in the next three days

KABUL: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Monday the Afghan peace process was making "positive headway" after a series of meetings in Kabul, the first leg of a four-nation visit that is part of the Pakistan government’s policy of outreach in the neighborhood.

Qureshi was in Kabul for meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani about bilateral ties and bolstering an Afghan peace process to reach a negotiated settlement to the 17-year-long war. Qureshi then departed for Iran and will also visit China and Russia.

“I’ve had productive meetings with the Afghan leadership this morning," Qureshi tweeted. "The peace process is making positive headway. Next stop is Iran. Regional connectivity and a collective outlook are essential for progress."

He said the region badly needed economic development, which could not happen without joint cooperation, trust and security.

The presidential palace in Kabul said Ghani’s discussions with Querishi revolved around “bilateral ties, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and subsequent intra-Afghan talks."

The visit, which is Qureshi's second to Kabul in less than a fortnight, follows last week’s talks between Taliban representatives and US officials in Abu Dhabi in which Pakistani officials and diplomats from the UAE and Saudi Arabia also took part. His previous meeting was part of a trilateral visit which involved China and was aimed at mending ties with Kabul and bring the sparring neighbors closer.

At talks last week, US and Taliban officials reportedly discussed proposals for a six-month ceasefire in Afghanistan and a future withdrawal of foreign troops. The Taliban emphasized the pullout of US troops from Afghanistan as the main condition before the group could start talks with President Ashraf Ghani’s embattled government.

An Afghan government delegation traveled to the city and met US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad but the Taliban refused to talk directly with officials from the Kabul government, which they consider an illegitimate, foreign-appointed regime.

In a statement issued last Tuesday, the Taliban said the talks had mainly concentrated on the “US occupation”. “Talks revolved around the withdrawal of occupation forces from Afghanistan, ending the oppression being carried out by the United States and her allies."

UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 19 June 2019

UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”