Colombo: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari called on the new Director-General of South Asia and SAARC of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Aruni Ranaraja today, following his recent meetings with HE Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana and HE Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha. 

He congratulated the Ambassador on her new assignment and the Order of Sikatuna, which HE President of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte conferred on her for elevating bilateral relations between their countries. Ambassador Haidari noted that he looks forward to working with Ambassador Ranaraja in the same spirit, further deepening Afghanistan-Sri Lanka ties in various spheres of cooperation including: political, defense, economic and commercial, social development, as well as cultural affairs. 

They thoroughly discussed the implementation status of all bilateral agreements and MOUs, and welcomed consideration by both sides to waive visa for the Afghan and Sri Lankan holders of a diplomatic passport as another step to further strengthen bilateral relations. 

Ambassador Haidari pointed out the vast potential for people-to-people exchanges to be realized through business and investment, tourism, medical tourism, as well as education tourism -- on which both sides agreed to work harder in the coming months.

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Colombo: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari called on H.E. Minister and Presidential Counsel Tilak Marapana on July 15, 2019, and conveyed to him the warm regards of his Afghan counterpart H.E. Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani. They discussed a range of issues of bilateral interest, as well as his recent working visit to Kabul, as both sides are collaborating to expedite the implementation of bilateral MOUs and agreements in various areas of cooperation, including: economy; education; higher education; science and technology; employment of skilled labor; air services; sports; nurses capacity bulding; and cultural affairs, among others.  

They also discussed the security situation in Afghanistan, as well as regional cooperation or a lack of it to help stabilize the country. Ambassador Haidari noted that HE President Ashraf Ghani was the first world leader to condemn strongly the April 21 terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, as Afghanistan firmly stands in solidarity with the friendly country, wishing it a speedy, full economic recovery.

In addition, they discussed the vast bilateral economic cooperation potential, including investment opportunities for the Afghan and Sri Lankan businesses in the two countries. HE Foreign Minister Marapana reminisced about his childhood memories of Afghan merchants, occasionally visiting Colombo, as Ambassador Haidari presented him with a small supply of Afghanistan' choicest saffron, one of our growing exports to the region and beyond. The Ambassador highlighted the high Afghan demand for the Sri Lankan tea, encouraging the Sri Lankan investors to move in to invest in this vast market given Afghans' daily consumption of large amounts of black and increasingly green tea.

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Moreover, he highlighted the importance of lessons to be learned from Sri Lanka's counterinsurgency experience, as well as ongoing peace-building programs, including reconciliation and reintegration of fomrer combatants and internally displaced persons (IDPs), as Afghanistan has been seeking to end the imposed conflict through a negotiated political settlement.

Ambassador Haidari thanked the Government of Sri Lanka for the protection of Afghan refugees, a small group to be resettled out by UNHCR, as they are unable to return home voluntarily. They too took note of the status of a few Afghan inmates in Sri Lanka, who should be repatriated to Afghanistan once an exchange of prisoners agreement is to be signed soon.

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Colombo: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari met with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Secretary-General Amjad Hussain B. Sial, on the sidelines of the 9th SAARC Film Festival, which's screened four Afghan films alongside those of other SAARC member-states on July 6, 2019. 

Ambassador Haidari appreciated the attention the Secretary-General has paid to cultural cooperation, helping bring together the nations of South Asia with a shared civilization and many bonds of friendship and kinship rooted in millennia of common history. The Ambassador highlighted that increased people-to-people ties should help deescalate bilateral tensions, which have so far prevented SAARC from realizing the full potential of its vision and mandate as an effective regional grouping on a par with the ASEAN and others. 

The Secretary-General agreed, alluding to poverty across the SAARC region, which the member-states must work together to address. Ambassador Haidari recalled the recent talk by President Ashraf Ghani at an Islamabad think-tank where he called for regional cooperation through increased connectivity for economic and cultural cooperation against confrontation.

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Colombo: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari attended the closing awards ceremony of the 9th SAARC Film Festival on July 07, 2019. Throughout the weeklong Festival, four Afghan films, two short and two feature, were screened. Of the 34 films from eight SAARC countries, one of Afghanistan's films, A Letter to the President by Ms. Roya Sadat, was awarded the Best Screenplay trophy.   

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The Ambassador, who strongly supports the hard efforts of the Afghan Film led by Ms. Sahraa Karimi, as well as all Afghan artists, personally received the award, on behalf of the winner: Mr. Aziz Deildar. He congratulated script writer, Mr. Deildar, Ms. Sadat, and the rest of their cast and crew on winning the prestigious award, in recognition of their fine work, in spite of the many challenges confronting cinema and theater in Afghanistan.

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Following receiving the award, the Ambassador appreciated the support of the SAARC Cultunral Center director and deputy directors. He also thanked memebrs of the international jury for their hard work throughout the week, competitively giving the Afghan entries a fair consideration.

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Colombo: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari along with his counterparts from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) met with the Sri Lankan Leader of Opposition the Honorable fr. President Mahinda Rajapaksa on July 05, 2019 to discuss with him their collective concern with regards to an escalation in acts of intimidation, discrimination, and marginalization, targeting the Sri Lankan Muslim community, including their small or large business establishments. 

Ambassador Haidari extended to the Honorable fr. President Rajapaksa the greetings of President Ashraf Ghani, who was the first world leader to condemn the terrorist attacks on April 21 by the few brainwashed, radicalized extremists. The Ambassador noted, however, that the crime of the few extremists shouldn't subject the whole Sri Lankan Muslim community to intimidation, prejudice and marginalization.

From Afghanistan's experience, he said that the vast majority of victims of  terrorism are actually innocent citizens of Muslim countries. While terrorists blew up churches on 4/21 in Sri Lanka, they daily target Afghans and often bomb mosques in Afghanistan. Hence, the Ambassador called on all Sri Lankan political leaders in and outside of the Government, including the Opposition, to condemn in strongest terms any hate speech and discriminatory acts against the Sri Lankan Muslim community or any other community.

This move would effectively help deprive extremists of further opportunities to radicalize vulnerable youth in Sri Lanka. Ambassador Haidari also noted that at a time when Sri Lanka is striving to revitalize its affected economy and tourism industry, any damage to its soft, friendly image would render its recovery efforts fruitless. He reiterated the strong solidarity of the Afghan Government and people with Sri Lanka. 

The Honorable fr. President Rajapaksa took note of the concerns expressed by the OIC envoys and assured them that he would call for inter-communal peace and harmony across Sri Lanka, frequently speaking up against targeting of the Muslim community due to politicization of the 4/21 #terroristattacks, in light of the upcoming elections in the country.

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Colombo: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari met with Foreign Secretary Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha on July 4, 2019. They discussed issues of bilateral interest, in light of the Ambassador's recent working trip to Kabul and his meetings with Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, Deputy Foreign Minister Idrees Zaman, Ambassador Gagan Bulathsinghala, Minister of Economy Mustafa Mastoor, Minister of Industry and Commerce Ajmal Ahmady, and Deputy Minister of Defense Abdul Hai Rauf, among others. 

They agreed on further steps to be taken under existing bilateral MOUs to initiate new programs of cooperation in civil and military areas. Ambassador Haidari highlighted the importance of learning lessons from Sri Lanka's war-to-peace-transition experience, including its reconciliation and reintegration programs. The Foreign Secretary welcomed a request for diplomatic training assistance, following signing a cooperation MOU between Bandaranaike International Training Institute and the Institute of Diplomacy of Afghanistan. 

Ambassador Haidari strongly encourages bilateral tourism and further Afghanistan-SriLanka people-to-people ties through higher education, business and investment. Please visit our daily updated website for furather information on our expanding bilateral relations: www.colombo.mfa.af

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Colombo: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari delivered opening remarks at the 9th SAARC Film Festival on July 3, 2019, and watched together with a huge enthusiastic international audience Afghanistan's first top nominated film: A Letter to the President by Roya Sadat, in which Leen Aalam acts impressively. 

The Ambassador thanks the Afghan Film Director-General SSahraa Karimi for supporting his efforts throughout this weeklong Festival, showing the world that despite the many challenges confronting our beautiful homeland, Afghan artists--much like our athletes--continue making us proud. 

Members of the Jury from Bosnia, Iran, and Philippines were captivated by A Letter to the President, praising the hardwork making it such moving, touching film. Ambassador Haidari is thankful to all Sri Lankans, who watched the film with great interest and came up one by one to express their appreciation of the film, applauding its director and cast.

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New Delhi: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari met with Ambassador Sujan Chinoy, Director-General of India's eminent think-tank, the Institute for Defense Studies & Analyses (IDSA) on July 1, 2019. 

Having served in Delhi remains one of the highlights of the Ambassador's Foreign Service career, as he worked to implement the key objectives of the Afghanistan-India Strategic Partnership Agreement, advancing our shared goal of a stable, peaceful Afghanistan that enables South Asia and Central Asia to connect for trade, investment and multifaceted people-to-people ties. 

In this regard, they noted efforts by President Ashraf Ghani, who's provided the region with a pragmatic blueprint for cooperation against confrontation. In this spirit, India's shared its own bread, providing critical aid for Afghanistan's sustainable development. Afghans remain proud of their friendship with India and grateful to the latter's continued support.

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New Delhi: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari spoke at the Indian Institute for Defense Studies & Analyses (IDSA-India) on July 1, 2019. He first discussed Afghanistans' vision of sustainable peace to be achieved through sincere regional security and development cooperation. 

In this regard, however, he noted that despite frequent statements of support from the region on a consensus that achieving peace through consolidation of Afghanistan's 18-year gains would help ensure regional stability, results-driven, tangible cooperation from certain regional state actors with direct influence on and ties with the Taliban remained elusive. He discussed the key points of the Consultative #Peace Loya Jirga declaration, which underpins the Government's strong mandate to pursue a sustainable political settlement that would end the imposed conflict.

Appreciating India's continued support for the sustainable stabilization and development of Afghanistan, Ambassador Haidari noted that the connectivity interests of India, China, Russia and Iran have converged, which should encourage them to work together for helping stabilize Afghanistan through bilateral efforts, as well as such multilateral mechanisms as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), whose key concerns remain the intertwined threats of terrorism and drug production/trafficking in the region. 

Ambassador Haidari highlighted the vision of President Ashraf Ghani for achieving region-wide peace and prosperity through regional cooperation against zero-sum confrontation, which would ultimately benefit no country in the region, knowing from the pre-war experiences of Europe in the 20th & 19th centuries. 

In this regard, the Ambassador referred to the recent address by President Ghani at the Institute for Strategic Studies of Islamabad where he spoke candidly about the pragmatic, win-win ways of bilateral, sovereign relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Watch the President's full address: https://t.co/qJ5ckTFq1d

Ambassador Haidari ended his talk by taking questions from IDSA scholars on their issues of research interest and expertise, including the transnational challenges of terrorism, extremism and criminality and the ways, in which they undermine regional stability and international peace.

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Colombo: - Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari joined his counterparts from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to meet with the Honorable Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe Sirisena on June 27, 2019. Reaffirming Afghanistan's commitment to non-interference, the Ambassador shared with the President the collective concern of the OIC Ambassadors about the stigmatization, marginalization, as well as targeting of the Sri Lankan Muslim community, following April 21 terrorist attacks.

Ambassador Haidari stressed the importance of maintaining the positive, tolerant image, which Sri Lanka enjoys in the international community against hate speech, the spread of fear among and mis- and dis-information about the Muslim community, who shouldn't be subjected to such suffering due to the act of a few brainwashed extremists, which Afghanistan along with the rest of the OIC member-states has strongly condemned.

Ambassador Haidari noted that the sooner issues of internal unrest are addressed, the earlier the efforts of Sri Lanka to revitalize its tourism industry would deliver tangible results, attracting tourists from Afghanistan and other countries in the region and beyond.

The Prime Minister took note of the concerns raised and assured the OIC Ambassadors of addressing the problems facing the Muslim community in the best interests of Sri Lanka itself. He pointed out the strong ties between Sri Lanka and the member-states of the OIC, and encouraged them to remove any travel advisories in place to help revitalize the tourism industry in Sri Lanka.
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