ISLAMABAD: UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Friday said it is important to engage with the Taliban government in Afghanistan for a range of reasons, including the safe passage of British citizens, but dismissed talks of recognising it officially as "premature".
Addressing a joint press conference in Islamabad alongside Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Raab, who is Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, said it would not have been possible to evacuate some 15,000 people from Kabul without some degree of cooperation from the Taliban.
"The approach we are taking is that we don't recognise the Taliban as a government but we do see the importance of being able to engage and have a direct line of communication, the reason being that there is a whole range of issues that need to be discussed including the question of safe passage of British nationals and the Afghans who worked for the UK government," he said.
Though he hoped that the Taliban would bring stability and an end to violence in the country, Raab said it was "premature" to talk about recognising the Taliban at the moment.
He noted that the Taliban had made a series of undertakings, "some of them are positive at the level of words" but there was a need to test whether they translated into deeds, which would not be possible if some channel of dialogue was not present.
To a question on the expectations from the Taliban and the dangers of pushing them towards "radical tendencies", Raab said some early tests needed to be set on the Taliban promises and whether they had the sincerity and will to deliver on them.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, on August 15.
The last of the foreign troops left the country on August 31, bringing an end to 20 years of war amid fears of an economic collapse and widespread hunger.
Following the chaotic departure, Western states have severely restricted their aid payments to Afghanistan.
Raab thanked the Pakistani government for safely evacuating British citizens.
He said that the UK will continue to provide aid on humanitarian grounds.
"We will continue to help Afghanistan's neighbouring countries, including Pakistan We want to see a prosperous Afghanistan," he said.
The foreign secretary also said that the UK valued its historic relations with Pakistan.
"We want to further strengthen our ties with Pakistan," he said. Qureshi was asked if Pakistan's relation with the Taliban will be condition-based. Qureshi said Pakistan had certain compulsions like geographical closeness, trade and daily commuting of 20,000- 25,000 people across the border, which makes the country's stance unique.
"Some have the choice of getting up and leaving (Afghanistan) but we do not. We are neighbours; we have to coexist. Geography ties us together so our approach has to be somewhat different and realistic, he said.
He said: "It is up to the people of Afghanistan to decide their future government and we will accept their choice."
The foreign minister said now there was an opportunity for peace in Afghanistan after 40 years.
Qureshi said Pakistan had taken legislative and administrative steps to get out of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) grey list.
He said the issue of the UK's Red List -- highest restrictions in travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic -- was discussed in the meeting with Raab and the British foreign secretary was told how the people in Pakistan felt about it.
Raab said top officials from the two countries would meet to discuss the technical aspects of the case.
"We will be able to take the decision on excluding Pakistan's name from the Red List on technical grounds," he said.
To a question on the Kashmir issue, Raab said Britain supported talks between Pakistan and India to resolve the dispute.
"It is not for the UK to impose its solution to the Kashmir crisis," he said, adding that London encouraged both Islamabad and New Delhi to hold concrete dialogue over the issue.
The question was asked in light of Syed Ali Shah Geelani (91), avowedly a pro-Pakistan supporter who spearheaded the separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir for over three decades, dying at his residence in Srinagar on Wednesday night.
The British foreign secretary arrived in Islamabad on Thursday night for talks on the evolving situation in Afghanistan and bilateral matters.
The Pakistan Foreign Office said Raab during his visit on September 2 and 3 will hold official talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
"The talks will cover the evolving situation in Afghanistan and bilateral matters," said the FO.
Pakistan and the United Kingdom have been closely engaged on the latest developments in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan had a comprehensive exchange of views with Prime Minister Boris Johnson telephonically on August 18, while Qureshi and Raab discussed the situation in Afghanistan twice on August 16 and 27.
The FO said the visit will reinforce the current momentum in high-level exchanges between the two countries and help strengthen bilateral cooperation on a range of issues.
Raab is the third European leader to visit Pakistan this week after German and Dutch foreign ministers visited Islamabad and met top leaders.