WASHINGTON - Pakistan wants Afghans - not outside forces - to fill any power vacuum resulting from the withdrawal of US-led NATO forces from Afghanistan, National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz has said, while advocating what he called “regional non-interference” approach for peace and stability in the war-torn country.

Talking to Washington-based Pakistani journalists after the US-Pak Strategic Dialogue, he said Afghanistan would not be able to achieve peace and stability if external interference continues in the form of proxies supported by outside powers, including Pakistan, Iran, India, and Central Asian states.

“The Afghan power vacuum should not be filled by outside forces,” the Advisor said.

Aziz was questioned about possible power vacuum in Afghanistan, when the US and NATO forces leave the country by the end of the year.

“And once the Afghans reach a decision, then we can compete in development and reconstruction work in that country. But the regional countries should not compete in filling the power vacuum.”

“There should be a regional non-interference approach to Afghanistan,” Aziz said, adding that the policy would work if all countries follow it, not just Pakistan.

Responding to a question on the issue of delay in conclusion of Bilateral Security Agreement between Kabul and Washington, Aziz said it is a matter for the two countries to decide, and that Pakistan would not like to force Afghanistan into signing the accord as it is a sovereign country.

He noted in reply to a question that experts assess that Afghan security forces would at the moment need support to contain insurgency.

 “But our concern is that hostilities in Afghanistan can spill over into Pakistan. Therefore, we have to do better border management with Afghanistan. We could have a flood of refugees if there is infighting in Afghanistan,” he said, pointing out that Pakistan is already hosting three million refugees.

Better management, he explained, means enforcement on both sides to check movement either way. This, he said, could be done through increase in the number of two crossings currently in use. Also, both sides should ensure that people travel with proper documentation under easement rights. He said as much as 100,000 Afghans cross into Pakistan from the border everyday.

He said in his remarks at the strategic dialogue, he underlined that Pakistan’s concerns vis-à-vis Afghan stability and India should be taken into account.

Aziz said Islamabad and Washington share the objective that Afghanistan should have peace and stability.

He said Pakistan and the United States would work out a framework on reimbursement for expenditures Pakistan incurs on transportation of supplies. Presently, the reimbursements are covered under the US Coalition Support Funds head.

Later, US Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom renewed Washington’s commitment to strong economic partnership with Pakistan .She was speaking at a dinner, hosted by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Jalil Abbas Jilani in honour of National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz.

“Our successful discussions reflect the spirit of mutual respect which characterizes our work in this forum between our two governments,” Higginbottom told the distinguished gathering at the dinner.

The dinner was attended by top officials including Defence and Water and Power Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Secretary Defence Asif Yasin Malik, Chief of the General Staff Lt-Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad and members of the delegation.

US Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Co-chair of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, Washington’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins, US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson, Deputy Special Representative Dan Feldman, and senior officials from the various departments also attended.

In her remarks, the Deputy Secretary of State said as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said “We must build on convergence, and wherever there is divergence, we must work to try to minimise and remove it. This dialogue can help do just that.”

The US is committed to working with Pakistan to address energy shortfalls, especially as Pakistan undertakes tough reforms, she said.

The US commends the tough choices that Prime Minister Sharif and his Cabinet have already made to reinvigorate Pakistan’s economy. Going forward, your government’s commitment to carrying out necessary reforms will help tap the enormous potential of Pakistan’s people, the deputy secretary added.

“Bilateral trade and investment are the future of the US-Pakistan relationship. Pakistan is a huge emerging market for US businesses and the US is Pakistan’s largest trading partner. In 2012, that two-way trade was worth more than $5 billion.

“But together there is much more we can and will do to deepen this economic relationship. We see Pakistan’s prosperity as good for the Pakistani people, good for Americans, and good for the region. We have repeatedly learned that countries gain more from economic cooperation than from isolation. Central and South Asia are among the least economically interconnected regions in the world. This means there is great potential to develop mutually beneficial economic ties. In this regard, we encourage steps to increase regional trade, including with India. Steps that increase regional trade support the New Silk Road vision of an economically integrated region.”

Speaking on the occasion, Sartaj Aziz said the two sides discussed cooperation in wide-ranging areas and rebuilding mutual trust will transform the relationship into a strategic long-term partnership.

Ambassador Jilani, earlier, welcomed the participants of the Strategic Dialogue, which marks a highpoint in his position as the country’s chief diplomat in Washington.

He expressed satisfaction over the positive trajectory of the ties between the two countries.