The Taliban have taken the strategically important city of Ghazni, the 10th provincial capital to fall to the militants in less than a week.

Ghazni is on the major Kabul-Kandahar motorway, linking militant strongholds in the south to the capital, Kabul.

Taking Ghazni is thought to increase the likelihood that the Taliban could eventually aim to take Kabul itself.

On the fast-evolving situation in Afghanistan, the world is currently observing a radical transformation taking shape in Afghanistan, which is sure to have a profound effect on the geo-political balance of power in the region and beyond.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen has said the United Nations should step up efforts at this critical juncture in Afghanistan as Bangladesh does not want to see people in Afghanistan suffer anymore.

"While we welcome peace talks involving important players, I think, the United Nations as a neutral broker should step up (efforts) at this critical juncture," he said, adding that Bangladesh wants to see a fellow South Asian State, a fellow member of SAARC and its people remain free from any sufferings.

Bangladesh thinks the strengthening of democratic institutions, including endogenous ones and unimpeded socio-economic development in Afghanistan - with the active participation of the international community - remain important.

"The daunting task ahead is to build an efficient public service delivery system suitable for the Afghan people given the geography and ethnic divide and millennium old, decentralized structure," said the Foreign Secretary.

Masud Momen was addressing a webinar. The webinar titled "Current Afghan Situation and Bangladesh" was organized by the South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance (SIPG) of North South University (NSU) to understand the current situation from academic and geopolitical lenses as the emerging unrest and power shifting in Afghanistan will have consequences in the entire South Asia region.

Dr. M. Mustafa Mastoor, Special Representative and Senior Advisor, High Council for National Reconciliation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Shahidul Haque, former Foreign Secretary and Professorial Fellow, SIPG,Prof Taufique, South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance, NSU Vice Chancellor Prof Atiqul Islam, Brig Gen Shakhwat Hossain, Faruque Ahmed, former Executive Director, BRAC International and Prof Lailufar Yasmin, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University, spoke at the event.

Right now, he said, there can be nothing more important than the elimination of the scourge of terrorism and ethnic strife, which can only be possible through dialogue and cooperation amongst stakeholders both within Afghanistan and outside.

Highlighting Bangladesh's South Asia policy, the Foreign Secretary said the Prime Minister's visionary policy is that the region must rise and prosper together, leaving no space for inequality; otherwise, there will be instability in the region allowing foreigners to interfere in their affairs.

"In short, our South Asia policy rests on the guiding principle that the countries of the region must work together and cooperate to reach our common goals of socio-economic development and prosperity," he said.

Masud Momen said it is in this spirit that Bangladesh engages with the international community on matters of reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.

He said Bangladesh has remained consistently and actively engaged with Afghanistan through participation in various international meetings and conferences on the reconstruction of the country.

Bangladesh was an eager proponent for Afghanistan's membership to the SAARC in 2007.

Bangladesh closed down its Embassy in Kabul following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and though it has been decided to reopen the Embassy, it has not been possible to do so because of security concerns.

The Bangladesh Ambassador to Uzbekistan is presently concurrently accredited to Afghanistan.

"As soon as the situation becomes conducive, we would like to reopen the Embassy," said the Foreign Secretary.

Despite being a landlocked country that should not hold back its economy as the country is situated in a vital juncture on the Silk Route, he said.

The Foreign Secretary said China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Russian initiated TAPI, all have the potential to significantly reshape the Afghan economy.

"Connectivity potentials in broader South Asia hinge on a stable Afghanistan. As a country believing in realizing the full potential of connectivity, we will be following the developments very closely," he said.

Masud Momen said Bangladesh firmly believes in the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Afghanistan. "A democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan as chosen by its people can only guarantee stability in the country and continue its path of socio-economic development."

In this regard, he said, Bangladesh considers itself a potential development partner and a friend of Afghanistan.

Bangladesh's interest in expanding relations with Afghanistan stems from a genuine desire to assist the people of Afghanistan.

"We firmly believe that it is upon the people of Afghanistan to rebuild their country and decide the course of the future themselves. Bangladesh welcomes Afghan people's commitment to carry forward the ongoing peace process in quest for an inclusive society," said the Foreign Secretary.

China to play most important role

Former foreign secretary Shahidul Haque has said although India, Iran and Pakistan are in the race for influence in Afghanistan, China has the most important role to play to fill the void left by the withdrawal of NATO and US forces.

He also said the National Afghan government has shown its interest to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and it will be interesting to see how it turns out as both India and Pakistan are SCO members.

"To bring peace and security in Afghanistan, the governance of Afghanistan should be done by the people of this country without any interference of outsiders," said Haque, now a professorial fellow of SIPG at NSU, while addressing a webinar.

"We are holding several meetings with Taliban to understand which one of the existing Islamic models they want to implement but they are adamant to implement their model to run Afghanistan and that's a major issue of the present conflict," said Dr M Mustafa Mastoor, special representative and senior advisor, High Council for National Reconciliation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Joining live from Kabul, he also said the recent diplomatic efforts of Bangladesh on Afghanistan issues are not as strong as they were before and hopes it will improve in the future.

Keynote speaker of the webinar Brig Gen M Sakhawat Hussain (retd), senior fellow of SIPG at NSU, discussed the geopolitics and consequences of the current Afghan Crisis in the South Asian region and Bangladesh.

He stated that a continuation of the Afghan internal conflicts will have a spillover effect in the region as seen in the past which may jeopardize the external and internal security of this region.

He also opined that Bangladesh, having historical ties with Afghanistan should consider improving ties with Central Asia including Afghanistan.

Dr Lailufar Yasmin, professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, pointed towards placing importance on both hard and soft power objectives.

"We need to analyze the long-term impacts of the fact that the Taliban is trying to win the hearts of the mass public by lowering the oil price and the amount of Mahr (money paid by the groom at the time of Islamic marriage)," she said.

Faruque Ahmed, former executive director of Brac International who worked in the humanitarian and development sector in Afghanistan, stated that security is a big challenge there along with weak governance and the high cost of doing business.

He also opined that security should be ensured first for peacebuilding and development in Afghanistan.

Professor Atiqul Islam, vice-chancellor of North South University chaired the session.

In his concluding remarks, he said that although the re-emergence of the Taliban may represent an initial strategic gain for Pakistan, the country is also at high risk of much chaos, civil war, and the influx of refugees from Afghanistan if another civil war starts there.

He also said India has good reasons to be nervous as China will be keeping a sharp eye on Afghanistan as well. "China has already met with the Taliban leaders as they don't want their interference in Xinxiang and BRI projects."

The event ended with the playing of an Afghan folk song as a tribute to the fellow Afghans wishing peace and prosperity in their lives.

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