ISLAMABAD - China, Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a trilateral understanding Saturday to enhance counterterrorism security cooperation, and collectively reiterated their call for the Taliban insurgency to join Afghan peace talks.
The foreign ministers of the three countries met in Afghanistan's capital city, Kabul, for a second round of talks, where they put the understanding into effect and also pledged to jointly work for regional connectivity, as well as economic development.
Beijing initiated the platform and hosted the inaugural meeting last year with a mission to help ease tensions and suspicions that have long plagued Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan. Critics say the tensions have hampered the effort to fight terrorism and promote regional peace, as well as economic connectivity.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a joint news conference after the meeting that his country will continue diplomatic efforts to help improve Kabul's strained relations with Islamabad to further Beijing's mission of regional peace and development.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi noted terrorist entities — such as Islamic State (IS), the anti-China East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — threaten regional peace and could only be defeated through joint efforts.
Chinese officials worry that continued Afghan instability could encourage ETIM to foment problems in the western Xinjiang region, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We signed today an MoU [memorandum of understanding] on counterterrorism and security. This is a step forward and I think it will help us achieve what we collectively want to achieve," Qureshi told reporters.
He emphasized that Pakistan is making efforts to promote a reconciliation process in Afghanistan, but he said it is up to Afghans themselves to decide how they want to achieve a political settlement to the war.
Afghan officials allege that Pakistan allows Taliban leaders to hide in the neighboring country and direct their violent insurgency from there. Kabul accuses Islamabad of not upholding its commitments made in bilateral and multilateral forums to prevent the Taliban from using Pakistani soil.
Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, while addressing the news conference, called on Islamabad to play its "important role" to facilitate Kabul's peace talks with the Taliban. He stopped short, though, of reiterating accusations that Pakistan is behind the deadly insurgency in his country.
"There are groups in the region who have been getting support and who have been involved in this violence in Afghanistan. We need to see countries in the region, particularly in this case Pakistan, to support this initiative of peace and reconciliation and support us in reducing this growing violence and ultimately eliminate the violence throughout Afghanistan," Rabbani said.
But his remarks drew a strong reaction from the Pakistani foreign minister, who urged both sides to stop pointing fingers at each other.
"We will have to be more positive. We will have to realize that by blaming each other we are going nowhere. We have spent decades, we have seen devastation, we have seen people killed and maimed on both sides of the border. Time has come to move on. Time has come to stop pointing fingers," Qureshi lamented.
The Pakistani foreign minister said his delegation's visit to Kabul and participation in the trilateral meeting are all aimed at building mutual political trust and facilitating the Afghan peace process.
The allegations and counter allegations at the news conference once again underscored a deeply mistrusted relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
China, a close ally of Pakistan, lately has deepened its economic and political ties with Afghanistan. It has been actively using its influence to bring the two uneasy South Asian neighbors closer. Beijing also maintains contacts with the Taliban and repeatedly has urged the insurgents to engage in peace talks to seek a solution to their concerns.
The Chinese and Pakistani foreign ministers on Saturday invited and encouraged the Afghan government to join their bilateral multi-billion-dollar infrastructure-building project that Beijing is carrying out in Pakistan as part of its global Belt and Road Initiative.
Under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China has said it would help build roads and railways to connect it with Afghanistan. Qureshi urged his Afghan counterpart to send a delegation to Pakistan to examine projects in which they might want to take part.
He said the regional connectivity will be crucial for building war-ravaged Afghanistan. Pakistan also believes linking Afghanistan to CPEC would give it better access to trade with Central Asian markets.
Foreign Minister Rabbani said a third meeting of the trilateral dialogue will take place in Islamabad next year.