PIPS CONSULTATION-3 ON AFGHAN PEACE & RECONCILIATION
Pakistan needs parliament-led revived national policy on Afghanistan which goes into the public domain for some discourse on it. Pakistan’s present policy lacks key ingredients to protect the country from possible fallout of the emerging Afghan situation which seems susceptible to an increased risk of conflict and violence or crisis. One key aspect of the required paradigm shift in Pakistan’s Afghan policy shall entail winning hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan including through enhanced outreach to sections of Afghan society as well as provision and facilitation of humanitarian aid and assistance.
These views were expressed by participants of an expert consultation on “Afghan peace and reconciliation: Pakistan’s interests and policy options” organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad on March 27, 2022. The event was third of a series of eight quarterly consultations on Afghan peace and reconciliation PIPS has been organizing since July 2021. Prominent experts, political leaders, academicians, civil society representatives and media persons from Islamabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan participated.
The experts also showed their apprehensions about the Taliban government in Afghanistan which they said may not act against banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a major Pakistani Taliban group sheltered in Afghanistan and responsible for terrorist activities in Pakistan. This is because TTP has remained an ally of the Afghan Taliban in the latter’s war against US and other foreign forces, they also said. Some participants highlighted that the incidence of terrorist violence as well as insecurity at the Pak-Afghan border had increased since the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August last year.
Political leader and member Balochistan Assembly Sana Ullah Baloch taking part in the consultation said that Pakistan needs a very comprehensive national policy on Afghanistan. “Pakistan should revive its policy on Afghanistan which must be led by parliament,” he said, adding that public discourse is totally missing in the present policy. Baloch said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were the two provinces that had borne the burden of Afghan conflict. He recommended that the Durand Line should be seen as a lifeline of hundreds of tribes living on both sides of the border.
Senior journalist M Ilyas Khan held Pakistan’s traditional policy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan against India responsible for, what he said, a failing Afghan policy.
Amina Khan, Director of Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa at the Institute of Strategic Studies at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) urged that there should be bilateral formal agreements between Afghanistan and Pakistan on trade and refugees besides others. She also said that refugees living in Pakistan for the last many decades should be considered for granting right to Pakistani citizenship. She also asserted that there is a need to put serious eye on transnational terrorism with respect to bilateral relations with the neighboring country.
Dr Simbal Khan, political and security analyst, argued that problems of security would increase in Afghanistan manifold if it could not resolve its economic and governance problems and Pakistan would have to face the fallout of violence. She was of the view that Pakistan needs to review its restrictive policy for Afghan refugees and travelers and in particular the education and travel ban on Afghan women needs to be reversed to keep Afghanistan from further political and economic isolation.
Professor Zafar Nawaz Jaspal of Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad said that as long as the war economy of Afghanistan was not replaced with another one, the problem would remain there. “Some practical steps are not seen from international community including the platform of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to boost the economy of Afghanistan.” On the issue of the Taliban’s commitment to women rights, he said that Afghanistan has a specific cultural orientation which does not fully align with the international picture of human rights and changing the culture of any society takes at least a decade.
Maulana Abdul Qadir Luni, head of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Nazriyati Balochitan, remarked that Pakistan’s government should talk with the Taliban to resolve the issue of fencing along Pak-Afghan border. There are increased incidents of scaling down the fence erected by Pakistani authorities along the border, he underlined. He also asserted that while Pakistan is still unclear of its equation with the Taliban, the Taliban representation is very clear and is willing to hold table talks with the Pakistani leadership. He also added that except the people who were associated with previous governments no one is unhappy under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
Leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Samiul Haq (JUI-S) Maulana Yousuf Shah claimed that, according to his information, negotiations between Pakistan and the banned TTP were still under way and a breakthrough was possible in near future. He also said that the Taliban government would likely resolve the issue of closure of girls’ schools in Afghanistan.
Senior journalist and editor Haroon Rashid opined that different groups and war lords had remained the focus of Pakistan’s Afghan policy in the past. “We need a paradigm shift on Afghan policy and the new one should be meant only to win hearts and minds of Afghan people.”
Sami Yousafzai, an expert on Afghan affairs, said that Taliban have no logic or solid grounds to act against TTP because the latter had remained an ally of the former in the war against US and other foreign forces. He said that TTP militants were now shifting from border areas of Afghanistan to settled areas of the country.
Hassan Khan, senior journalist and anchorperson, stated that the issue of Afghanistan should be discussed in the national institutions especially parliament. He added that turmoil in Afghanistan has serious implications for Pakistan, especially the areas of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Mentioning the lack of basic facilities like electricity and communication network, he urged to take serious steps for the betterment and relief of people living in areas alongside the border.
Senior journalist and head of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Shahzada Zulfiqar highlighted the lack of consistency in state responses. With regard to talks with the Baloch insurgents and the TTP he opined that “sometimes the government appears as engaged in talks with [the militants] and at other times it chooses to remain indifferent to [the process of] political reconciliation.”
Journalists Riffatullah Orakzai and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud talked at length about the recent upsurge in the terrorist violence in Pakistan, which they believed was a fallout of the emerging Afghan situation. Orakzai in particular highlighted that the Taliban government was not helping Pakistan in anyway in addressing counterterrorism and border security challenges.
Former Senator Afrasiab Khattak in his concluding remarks said that the new policy on Afghanistan could only protect Pakistan from fallout of any conflict in the landlocked country. He said that regional competition has increased chances that ethnic violence could trigger in Afghanistan in the form of “terrorism earthquake.”