Pakistan suggests inviting Taliban-run Afghanistan to regional forum

·2 min read
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Islamabad

By Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan on Wednesday suggested inviting Taliban-run Afghanistan to a regional forum of six countries to help avert a humanitarian and economic crisis in the country.

The Taliban on Tuesday announced a new government and named Mullah Hasan Akhund, an associate of the movement's late founder Mullah Omar, as the head of the interim set-up, with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the movement's political office, as one of the two deputies.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood, speaking at a virtual conference that brought together neighbours Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkmenistan to discuss Afghan strategy, floated the idea of inviting the new rulers in Kabul to future gatherings.

"I also suggest that we may give consideration to the idea to invite Afghanistan in future," Qureshi said.

"Participation of Afghanistan will augment this forum's effectiveness in pursuing our shared objectives for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan."

An opening statement at the conference said the neighbours agreed on closer cooperation to avert a looming humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.

The United Nations has said basic services are unravelling in Afghanistan, with food and other aid about to run out. More than half a million people have been displaced internally this year.

"In the wake of recent developments, the key priorities are to prevent a humanitarian crisis that can exacerbate the suffering of the Afghans," Qureshi said in a live telecast, reading from a statement. "Equally important is to take steps to prevent economic meltdown in the country."

Afghanistan's neighbours would require a coordinated approach to cope with challenges stemming from the regime change in Kabul after U.S. and NATO forces left, the statement said.

It said those challenges included border security, preventing Afghan soil from being used as a base for terrorism and a possible influx of refugees.

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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