PIPS CONSULTATION-7 ON AFGHAN PEACE & RECONCILIATION
Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) organized its 7th quarterly consultation on “Afghan peace and reconciliation: Pakistan’s interests and policy options” in Islamabad on March 7, 2023.
The representatives of political parties, former diplomats, academics, retired military officials, journalists, and experts on Pak-Afghan affairs both from Afghanistan and Pakistan participated in the discussion. The main themes of the two sessions of the consultation were, respectively, “Pak-Afghan relations: challenges and way forward” and “Emerging Afghan situation and its interface with the countries near and beyond.”
The discussants were of the view that Pakistan’s parliament should take a lead in devising any policy for Afghanistan. They said that Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan was larger than counterterrorism and security and therefore should be seen broadly. They also urged the need for a soft management of Pak-Afghan border to remove hurdles in trade activities and movement of people between both the countries.
Initiating the dialogue, Director PIPS, Muhammad Amir Rana, welcomed the participants and explained to them the purpose of the consultation, which was to take a review of the major impediments in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and to find a solution to these problems. The overall purpose of this series of expert consultations is to discuss and critically evaluate evolving aspects of Afghan conflict and political reconciliation and suggest policy options and strategies to tackle their trickledown effect for Pakistan including in terms of militancy and insecurity, among other things.
Political analyst and former senator Afrasiab Khattak said that Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan was flawed. “The time has come for Pakistan to change this policy”, he said. He said further that integration in the region was the only way out for Pakistan.
Yar Muhammad Badini, Quetta-based senior journalist and writer, said that the security situation in Balochistan has worsened even after spending heavily in the security sector. He lamented the federal and provincial governments’ disinterest in spending on health in the province.
Talking about the insurgency in Balochistan, Dr. Manzoor Ahmed, professor of political economy and pro-vice chancellor at the University of Gwadar, said the insurgency in Balochistan is now owned by the middle class, having wrested its control from the feudal lords. In addition to this, he said that the insurgency in the province has disrupted the work on the CPEC projects.
Lamenting that how relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have worsened, the former National Security Adviser, Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua, said that Pakistan perhaps did not understand the hardships faced by the Afghan Taliban. “We are seeing our relations with the Afghan Taliban and Afghanistan from the lens of TTP,” he deplored. He said that both countries share a common future, and this should not be made a hostage to just a militant group, the TTP. He suggested that Pakistan needs to re-orientate its thinking towards Afghanistan.
Worrying about the upsurge in militancy, Rifattullah Orakzai, a journalist and security analyst, said that terrorist attacks have increased in Pakistan since the coming of Afghan Taliban into power in August 2021. Furthermore, he said both the TTP and IS-K have stepped up their terrorist activities in Pakistan, and that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police is at the forefront of war against the resurgent terrorism.
Hadees Pardees, Afghan freelance journalist, said Afghanistan is going down the hole, however, there is no media coverage of what is happening on the ground. Refuting the claim that under the Taliban rule the living conditions in Afghanistan have improved, he said they have rather worsened.
Criticizing Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan, Hassan Khan, a senior journalist and anchorperson, said the Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan is a colonial legacy as it focuses only on the security dimension—completely ignoring the other equally important dimensions.
Iftikhar Firdous, journalist and co-founder of The Khorasan Diary, said that the border management has become a major challenge for both Afghanistan and Pakistan as the problem of visa issuance to Afghans has persisted even after the change of rulers in both the countries.
As the discussion moved forward, Sami Yousafzai, a journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, said the challenges are piling up because of Pakistan’s flawed understanding of the Afghan Taliban. He noted the Afghan Taliban are never going to launch a crackdown on the TTP for Pakistan as they have both remained and struggled together for past few decades.
Aqeel Yousafzai, a senior journalist and author based in Peshawar, said both the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces are in a situation of war. He also highlighted how the TTP has started using nationalistic themes in its propaganda lately.
Highlighting the plight of the Afghan journalists in Afghanistan and as well as those who have taken refuge in Pakistan, Tahir Khan, a senior journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, said that they are at the mercy of Afghan Taliban and that around 200 Afghan journalists residing in different cities of Pakistan have ‘expired visas’. He said these journalists are facing immense hardships in renewing their visas.
Former Ambassador of Pakistan to Afghanistan, Mansoor Ahmad Khan, remarked that mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan has widened. “Pakistan’s image has continuously gone down in Afghanistan.” He said that Afghans were clear in their minds that there should be state-to-state civilian and civilized relations between the two countries. “To give a civilian face to this relationship is very important,” he said. He further noted that Afghans were categorical in their demand about movement of people and facilitation in trade, and soft management of Pak-Afghan border was crucial in this regard.
Former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Riaz Mohammad Khan, emphasized that Pakistan needs clarity on its Afghan policy. He said that the overarching policy should be to have state-to-state relations between the two countries. “Let us understand each other’s interests,” he said.
Lt. Gen (retd) Waheed Arshad, former Chief of the General Staff (CGS) in Pakistan Army, said that both countries should see each other as sovereign states. “Every state has its own strategic interests,” he said, adding that there was, at moment, no [visible] convergence of strategic interests between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said Pakistan should support Afghanistan from the perspective of the latter’s people.
Mirwais Yasini, former first deputy speaker of the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament, contended that there was an issue of trust deficit between the two countries. He urged the need to build the trust between the two and to concentrate on the interests of the people of both the countries.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Farhatullah Babar while speaking in the consultation said that mistrust in the minds of Afghan people towards Pakistan is deep-rooted. He said that Pakistan should introduce legislation on Afghan refugees to lessen this distrust between the two countries.
Defense analyst Major General Inam Ul Haque (retd) endorsed the idea of relocation of TTP from Pak-Afghan border but added that it should be done in phases after the categorization of militants as “white, grey and black.” He said that the reported demand of the Afghan Taliban from Pakistan to fund this relocation was a pragmatic approach.
Haroon Rashid, managing editor of the Independent Urdu, said that the issue of Afghan women needs to be highlighted and that Pakistan should raise its voice for the Afghan women as they are now undergoing severe persecution at the hands of the Afghan Taliban and their living conditions in Afghanistan are worsening at an exponential rate. He also said that Pakistan’s treatment of the Afghan refugees is reprehensible and should be refined.
Central Vice President National Party Dr. Ishaque Baloch proposed that Pakistan should rethink its policy towards Afghanistan. “We have to accept Afghanistan as a sovereign state”, he said.
Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology, Dr. Qibla Ayaz, in his Note of thanks said that both the countries should bring basic changes in their policies towards each other.
Former Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr. Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal in his concluding remarks said Pakistan unfortunately sees Afghanistan as a potential threat to it. The notion is not based on facts, he added. He argued that Pakistan should not make conditional promotion of trade with Afghanistan with the resolution of security and border issues and think beyond it.
“Let us focus on trade, economy, enhancing infrastructure and people to people contacts,” said Zakhilwal, who also served as the finance minister of Afghanistan. He added that the issue of the presence of banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Afghanistan could be dealt with in a broader national discussion. He also underlined that fencing of Pak-Afghan border by Pakistan was never a solution to the problem.