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QURESHI TO UNDERTAKE FOUR-NATION TOUR

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Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will undertake a four-nation tour that includes Qatar, Iran, the UAE and Turkey as part of diplomatic outreach to boost bilateral cooperation and discuss the Afghan peace process.

Qureshi will start his tour on April 18 from the United Arab Emirates where he will meet his counterpart. Then he will travel to Iran, Qatar and finally reached Turkey where he will attend the UN conference on Afghanistan, sources familiar with the development said on Friday.

Diplomatic sources said the foreign minister’s visit was aimed at evolving a consensus among key stakeholders of the Afghan peace process before the conference that would bring together delegates from several countries.

The conference was to kick off in Istanbul on April 16 but had to be postponed after a lack of preparation and the Taliban’s refusal to join it.

The Taliban are reluctant to attend the conference after US President Joe Biden extended the deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Biden administration said all US forces would leave Afghanistan by September 11 instead of May 1, the deadline set in the Doha Agreement the US had signed with the Taliban in February 29.

However, efforts are being made to convince the Taliban to attend the conference. The US, in particular, is relying on Pakistan to persuade the insurgent group for the purpose.

This week US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke to Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and later the US acting ambassador also met the Army Chief in Islamabad.

Pakistan, although welcomed the Biden’s announcement of troop withdrawal, is seeking progress in the Afghan peace process before the US and other international forces leave Afghanistan.

Islamabad fears that the absence of a peace deal will leave Afghanistan into yet another phase of unrest and uncertainty.

In the UAE, the foreign minister will likely discuss other regional developments, including Pakistan-India relationship.

Recently, several reports confirmed that the UAE has been trying to mediate between Pakistan and India. It is said senior intelligence officials held talks in Dubai in January that led to the ceasefire agreement between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

At a weekly news briefing when Foreign Office spokesperson Zahid Hafiz Chaudhri asked to comment on the reports of secret talks between Pakistan and India in Dubai, he avoided answering the question directly and instead said states always had ways and means to communicate with each other even during the times of war.

The spokesperson said Pakistan had never shied away from talks. It was India that vitiated the atmosphere, he added. The spokesperson maintained that the onus was on India to create an enabling environment for engagement between the two countries.