BEIJING: Pakistan Ambassador to China, Masood Khalid said on Friday that Pakistan’s development assistance to Afghanistan has reached US$1 billion and the country’s development assistance is geared towards investment in infrastructure, education, health, agriculture and capacity building of Afghan professionals.

Pakistan has made singular contribution in education by extending 6,000 fully funded scholarships to Afghan students while100 seats have been reserved for women annually, he said in an exclusive interview with a Chinese magazine “China Investment” here.

He informed this year around 750 Afghan students joined Pakistani universities to pursue their education in Pakistan.

Pakistan, he said, has setup healthcare facilities in Afghanistan including three hospitals, i.e, Jinnah Hospital Kabul, Naib Aminullah Khan Loghari Hospital and Nishtar Kidney Center in Jalalabad.

The ambassador said the Pakistan government also initiated capacity building projects for Afghan healthcare professionals, under which 59 Afghan medical professionals including doctors, nurses, and technicians successfully completed their training in 2017.

In addition, 42 Afghan healthcare professionals will start training at Institute of Kidney Diseases Peshawar, he added.

Masood Khalid said that Pakistan is also assisting Afghanistan in capacity building in the fields of agriculture, banking, railways, military and diplomacy.

Multiple Afghan agricultural professionals have undergone training in “Quarantine and Plant Protection” in Pakistan, he said and added, 20 fully funded scholarships will be provided to officials of Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock to pursue their professional studies at Faisalabad Agricultural University.

He said a fresh batch of railway professionals will soon be trained at Pakistan’s Railway academy, Lahore.

The ambassador said that Pakistan aims to continue providing assistance to Afghanistan in different fields for capacity building of Afghan institutions and professionals so that they contribute to the betterment of their people.

In this regard, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China are engaged closely through Practical Cooperation Dialogue. Pakistan and China have asked Afghanistan to identify areas in which the countries could provide necessary training and arrange capacity building courses for Afghan professionals.

About the achievement and significance of trilateral dialogue among China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Afghanistan and Pakistan last year in June.

He informed that the three countries agreed to establish the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Minister’s dialogue to strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest, beginning with economic cooperation.

The first meeting of the Foreign Minister’s level dialogue was held in Beijing on December 26, 2017.

He said the dialogue was focused on three major areas namely deepening mutually beneficial cooperation, advancing connectivity under the Belt and Road initiative and fighting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

“The three sides reaffirmed their support for a broad-based and inclusive peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. The trilateral forum will contribute to the greater connectivity, economic prosperity and peace and development of the three countries and the region,” he added.

Regarding four goals three countries agreed to cooperate, he said the three countries are part of the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism in Counter-terrorism along with Tajikistan, adding, the forum aims to strengthen the anti-terrorism cooperation among the armed forces of the four countries, and can contribute positively to peace and stability of the region and the world as a whole.

In addition, there has been a trilateral forum amongst Afghanistan, China and Pakistan on counter-terrorism which is aimed at intelligence sharing and cooperation for curbing the activities of the terrorists groups, he added.

Pakistan, he said, has undertaken concerted and precise counter-terrorism operations in its territory and added this has resulted in the eradication of organized presence of terrorists from its territory. Operation Zarb-e-Azab and more recently Radd-ul-Fasad are focused on clamping down on the remnant elements.

On Pakistan’s plans to strengthen the regional cooperation, he said the regional connectivity is one of the three strands of the trilateral mechanism amongst Afghanistan, China and Pakistan.

The three countries are already engaged under Practical Cooperation Dialogue for exploring further areas of development cooperation. Pakistan is an active member of the Belt and Road initiative.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of this initiative and in addition to China and Pakistan, regional countries can benefit from this project.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have a critical role owing to their geographical location. Pakistan and China are engaged with Afghanistan to explore ways for Afghanistan’s connectivity with the region.

He said recently, during the Prime Minister’s visit to Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to sign MOUs for Quetta-Kandahar-Herat Railway project and Peshawar-Kabul Motorway.

Such projects will significantly contribute towards regional connectivity and bring economic prosperity to Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Central Asian Republics and the wider region, he added.

The ambassador said that Gwadar port can help connect the Central Asian Republics with Persian Gulf countries and rest of the world.

Regarding extension of CPEC to Afghanistan, he said that connectivity is the key to exploiting the economic potential of any country or region in the modern world.

The connectivity is going to bring shared prosperity for everyone and this is also the basic idea behind the Belt and Road initiative. Pakistan is an active partner of China under the Belt and Road initiative and is working together with China to enhance connectivity in the region through the establishment of the road, rail and sea routes.

“ We believe that CPEC has the potential to provide benefits not only to the people of Pakistan and China but the entire region. It is a project for win-win cooperation,” he added.

About future challenges, he said the region can only achieve its actual potential through development carried out by enhanced connectivity. However, these ideas face multiple challenges from various fronts.

“These include deteriorating law and order situation, terrorism negative role played by some international actors etc. The three countries need to deepen their engagement to address the challenges and work towards peace and stability of the region,” he concluded.