Trilateral Core Group Press Availability With Pakistani Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Javed Ludin
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani: Thank you very much for coming to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once again. I know that there is a lot of activity taking place these days which brings you back to the Foreign Office again and again, and it’s certainly a matter of great pleasure to see all of you back in the Foreign Office. We thought we’d brief you on a very constructive and positive Trilateral Core Group meeting that we had this afternoon. First of all, before all of you, I would like to once again extend a very warm welcome to my very dear brother Ambassador Javed, Deputy Foreign Minister Javed Ludin and Ambassador Marc Grossman and their delegations.
Pakistan is pleased to host the sixth trilateral Core Group meeting comprised of Afghanistan, the United States, and Pakistan in Islamabad. Deputy Foreign Minister Javed Ludin, Ambassador Marc Grossman, and myself, along with our respect delegations, had a very productive discussion. We agreed that Afghanistan and the region as a whole was passing through a defining moment, as the country has entered the transition phase. Together we reviewed developments with regard to the progression of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive peace and reconciliation process. We also discussed the next possible steps in this process.
On behalf of the Government of Pakistan, I reiterated our full support to the efforts of the Afghan government to achieve peace and stability in the country. Stability and peace in Afghanistan is a core national objective of Pakistan. Brother Ludin and Ambassador Grossman agreed with me that we share the same strategic objectives in Afghanistan and the region. In our view it is essential that we work together towards our common goals on the basis of partnership, mutual trust, and mutual respect, as well as in a manner that is fully transparent. I expressed our support for other regional and international processes in support of peace, stability, and security in Afghanistan. We also discussed issues such as return of refugees, improved border management, and illicit drug trafficking. With Deputy Minister Ludin and Ambassador Grossman, I exchanged views on the several economic initiatives and development projects currently under consideration at the bilateral and at the regional level.
We also agreed on two very important initiatives. We agreed on the establishment of a subgroup, a trilateral subgroup, at the United Nations to coordinate activities in New York. The subgroup will comprise representatives of the three missions, the Mission of Pakistan, the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations, and the Permanent Mission of the United States of America. So this subgroup will also coordinate various activities at the United Nations. Another very important aspect, initiative, that this group was able to take today was the establishment of a subgroup on safe passage. So these we thought were two very tangible achievements of the meeting today. I take this opportunity to thank Deputy Minister Ludin and Ambassador Grossman for their valuable contributions to our very fruitful discussions today. I would now invite my very dear friend and brother Deputy Foreign Minister Ambassador Javed Ludin for his remarks.
Deputy Foreign Minister Javed Ludin: Thank you very much. Thank you very much my friend, brother, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani. I am grateful to you for hosting very graciously the sixth meeting of the trilateral Core Group today and for your very warm hospitality that’s extended to us, to myself and my delegation. It’s indeed a great pleasure to be back in Islamabad. In fact with your predecessor, my friend, Salman Bashir, last year I almost got used to coming to Islamabad every month. And it was such a highlight to do that. And then there was this gap of a number of months. To be able to come back here after a few months is a very positive thing for me personally. Today as the Foreign Secretary explained, we have the sixth meeting of the Trilateral Core Group. I was also very pleased and encouraged to see my other good friend Ambassador Marc Grossman. Together we have worked on this very crucial process of this trilateral cooperation between our three countries. I appreciated the opportunity today to really take this conversation a step further. We have, as the Foreign Secretary mentioned, a very comprehensive agenda between us or amongst us. This is really a reflection of the very broad relationship and cooperation that exists between our countries.
We’ve made it very clear in the past, and I was able to do this today as well with the Foreign Secretary Jilani and with Ambassador Grossman, that for Afghanistan peace is the most urgent, the most important priority. For us, for the three countries, amongst the challenges that affect us, amongst the opportunities that are there in front of us. I have requested to utilize whatever opportunities there are and to focus this particular process of cooperation between our three countries on the process of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
We meet here in Islamabad after what was a very important, in fact a landmark, visit by President Karzai in February. That was an extremely fruitful opportunity for our two countries to focus on the peace process and to agree on the number of crucial steps forward. We were then very pleased and encouraged to see a statement by Honorable Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the 24th of February in support of Afghanistan’s peace process, stating in very clear terms Pakistan’s support for that process.
We are grateful once again for that clear message sent in support of this process. We recognize that there are important steps ahead of us to be taken in order to make Afghanistan’s peace process successful. Today we have a good opportunity to discuss some of the elements of that support that we hope to have from Pakistan and from the United States in support of the peace process. We believe that the time is short. Peace is an urgent need. About two weeks ago we had a terrible attack in Kabul on the 15th of April which was a reminder again of the very sinister nature of the terrorist enemy that confronts our future and affects our desire for a peaceful life. To be able to confront that enemy, we will need to succeed in this partnership, this trilateral partnership.
We need to confront terrorists militarily where we can, where they are, where they are based, when they come to disturb the peaceful lives of the Afghan people and the Pakistani people. We also need to succeed in the political process, to build those who are willing to join a peaceful and dignified life, to peel them away from the ranks of the Taliban and other militants and to integrate them into a peaceful and dignified life in Afghanistan. In that direction we have crucial tasks ahead of us. We need to be able to find those people who are willing to talk wherever they are and we need to encourage them. As the Foreign Secretary said, we need to provide safe passage for them. We need to create an environment where they feel safe and confident that they can engage in peace talks without any consequence for them.
So in that direction I really welcome today’s discussion and the outcome that we had and very much second the two initiatives we had agreed on: the subgroup of this particular Core Group in New York at the level of our permanent missions there. That’s an important place because in New York we need to really engage with the United Nations from time to time on the question of delisting Taliban leaders and others. So I think it’s a useful contribution to that process in that sense.
We also welcome the initiative on safe passage, which will mean that some of our expert-level people between the three countries can meet and really discuss these things in detail to take this process forward. This was on the reconciliation process. We did have, as was mentioned, a very comprehensive agenda in front of us, and if I may just pick up on one or two of those other items in the agenda. One was on the question of return of refugees. As an Afghan, I just can’t help but to take this opportunity once again to express our deep and sincere gratitude to Pakistan, to the people of Pakistan, to the Government of Pakistan in hosting millions of Afghans over many decades. That’s a sign of friendship and solidarity that you have shown to us which we will never forget. We share absolutely your vision that it is good for them, it is good for Afghanistan, it is good for Pakistan to take steps and to facilitate their orderly and safe and dignified return. That is a goal we share and we will work with you in order to realize that goal.
The other item that I would like to just comment on briefly is the prospect of economic cooperation. This region will only really transform towards peace and stability when our economies in this region are integrated, when people can really enjoy peaceful and prosperous lives, in an integrated region. We have great potential. Pakistan is our largest economic partner in this region, and we are proud of that relationship. We would like to use whatever opportunities there are, particularly in the context of a trilateral cooperation, to encourage further opportunities for trade, investment, and cooperation. And I particularly highlight the importance of energy and infrastructure as key priorities for us. We are very much engaged, Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the TAPI gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan. That’s a very crucial project. We appreciate the United States’ continued support for that and other regional projects that would really truly transform the region once it is realized. I am very grateful, once again, to you my friend, Foreign Secretary Jilani, for chairing today’s meeting and for hosting us so graciously. Thanks.
Special Representative Marc Grossman: Thank you both very much. I am also delighted to be in Islamabad for this meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan-U.S. Core Group. Like my friend, Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin did, I thank you, sir, for the hospitality you have shown us and our entire delegation. We thank you very much for having us here. Of course I am also pleased to be here with our friends from Afghanistan, Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin and also Minister Stanekzai and the rest of the important Afghan delegation.
Both of my colleagues have done a very good job of taking you through the agenda today, so I will not do the same. But I think back to the important Core Group meeting that we had in Dushanbe last month, where we reaffirmed our support for an Afghan peace process. Our shared goal is to open the doors for Afghans to sit down with other Afghans to talk about the future of their country. We have been very clear and very consistent about what the necessary outcomes of such a peace process would include. That the Taliban and other insurgents would break their ties with al-Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghanistan’s constitution, and very crucially, the protection of women and minority rights.
The fact that we are here today is proof that, Pakistan has a very important role to play in bringing peace to Afghanistan. It was on the 16th of April last year that senior officials from Pakistan - the Prime Minister and others - went from Pakistan to Kabul. It was there that the Core Group was born. So a year later we have had six of these meetings to show the importance of this trilateral cooperation. We welcome the engagement and cooperation of Afghanistan and Pakistan on peace including, as both of my colleagues have mentioned, President Karzai’s visit to Islamabad in February, Prime Minister Gilani’s statement supporting Afghan reconciliation, and very importantly calling on the Taliban and other groups to participate in an intra-Afghan process for national reconciliation and peace.
There is more, obviously, that can be done. Afghanistan’s neighbors, and near neighbors, are essential partners in supporting Afghans in creating a secure, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan in a secure, stable, and prosperous region. That was a major theme of the Istanbul conference last November. It remains central to the Istanbul process. And we look forward to a successful ministerial meeting in Kabul in June. Deputy Minister, thank you for all of the efforts that are being made to prepare that work.
In Dushanbe last month, and here today, Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin said that Afghans need peace more than anything else, and presented a vision of Afghanistan’s future that protects the gains of the last ten years. Today’s meeting allowed us to advance that discussion and particularly to focus on how Pakistan and the United States can support that peace, and support that very important vision. So again, sir, I thank you so much for your hospitality, and I look forward to taking your questions.
Question: Dominic DiNatale, from Fox News, with a question for Ambassador Grossman. With regards to the reopening of NATO supply routes, in your talks with the Pakistanis, what specific support are you seeking in terms of the safe passage of those supply routes once they reopen in terms of the convoys?
Ambassador Grossman: Let’s make sure that we are not conflating two issues here. I’ll answer your question, and that is to say that we came yesterday, and we talked about the Ground Lines of Communication. We had a preliminary meeting here at the Foreign Ministry and then a working group met yesterday in the afternoon to try to lay out precisely how that would go forward. Obviously if the Ground Lines of Communication were going to open, we would want them to open safely. I think that would be an important part of any agreement.
Question: How do you seek to do that?
Ambassador Grossman: Obviously that is part of the conversation the working group is having. I am sure that would be part of the responsibility that the Government of Pakistan would undertake.
Question: Thank you Mr. Ambassador. I’m Saleh Zafar from Jang Group. I’m content to ask a question to Mr. Grossman. Since the inception of this Core Group you are meeting six times in Islamabad, but we think that there is a trust deficit prevailing in the three member countries of the group. How far and how would you remove and reduce this trust deficit in the backdrop of the fact that you started Qatar process without taking into confidence your other two colleagues. Could you give us the status of that Qatar process? And would you like to take into confidence your other partners on that count? Thank you, sir.
Ambassador Grossman: Thank you for your question. Let me first say that if you consider where we are today and where we were a year ago, in terms of trust between the three parties on the question of support for an Afghan peace process, I say that the three of us standing here together are a representation of exactly that trust. Think of what’s happened in a year. I believe my date is right, that on the 16th of April of last year, the Government of Pakistan went to Kabul and this Core Group got started. And what’s happened since? We’ve had a number of times we’ve established this relationship. We’ve had a good discussion about support for an Afghan peace process. As we’ve said here today President Karzai made what both my colleagues described as a historic visit here in February, and Prime Minister Gilani then made what I consider to be an extremely important statement as a result of that visit.
Question from the audience: [inaudible]
Ambassador Grossman: The trust here to support an Afghan peace process is very high, and will continue. Second, on the Qatar process. Let me assure you that we did not embark on any effort to open the door for Afghans to talk to other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan without the permission of the Government of Afghanistan or informing our partners. So that is simply not the case. Our effort to open this door for Afghans to talk to other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan was fully informed to and with the permission of the Government of Afghanistan.
Question: I am Zarhoon Shah from GEO television. My question is addressed to all of the three gentlemen. Sir at what level and what extent all of these three countries have been in contact with the Taliban? Thank you, sir.
Foreign Secretary Jilani: As far as the reconciliation process is concerned, our position is again clear. This has to be an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process. As far as Pakistan is concerned, as the Prime Minister of Pakistan said in his statement that has also been referred to by both distinguished colleagues Deputy Minister Javed Ludin and Ambassador Marc Grossman, we will be happy to facilitate any process that would bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan. But as I said that initiative lies with Afghanistan and our responsibility would be to facilitate that process in whatever possible manner that we can.
Ambassador Grossman: Our position is exactly the same. The purpose of the United States in having any contact is for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to foster a conversation among Afghans about the future of Afghanistan.
Deputy Minister Ludin: And our objective as part of the peace process is to engage in direct negotiations with leaders of the Taliban and with other groups, and to talk to them about the future. Talk to them about where they fit in the current political process, alongside the people of Afghanistan, and to see if they will work with us on achieving this very important aspiration of the Afghan people and that is to bring peace to this country after a very long time. And in this direct engagement, in this direct negotiation, that’s why we are here, we are seeking support. We basically need two things. One is, those who are in contact in one way or another with us need to feel secure. That they can do so openly and that there won’t be any consequences for them, and that can then produce outcome and have a cascade effect on others to join. And secondly we really need contacts. We need those who we are not in contact with, for those contacts to be facilitated, to be supported, and then for them to create a positive outcome. That’s why we are here, and we count on the commitment that’s been expressed today. I take it very, very seriously, the expression of support that was given to us in February when President Karzai visited Islamabad, and that’s why it was, as I said, a landmark, historical visit. I see a reiteration of that support today from Foreign Secretary Jilani. I’m grateful for that. Of course the United States can support that process in an important way. And we are certain that that would continue. So that’s what we are seeking basically.