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Pakistan must see its relations with Afghanistan beyond security

Islamabad— Pakistan should avoid seeing its relations with Afghanistan from the lens of security as there is widening mistrust between the two countries both at the state and people-to-people level.

Pakistan must abandon its approach towards the war-torn country by conditioning the promotion of trade activities between the two countries with the resolution of security issues because this scheme would prove counterproductive.

These views were expressed by experts here at a consultation on “Afghan peace and reconciliation; Pakistan’s interests and policy options” organized by Islamabad-based think tank Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).

The representatives of political parties, former diplomats, academics, retired military officials, journalists among other experts on Pak-Afghan affairs both from Afghanistan and Pakistan participated in the discussion. The main themes of the consultation, which is the 7th one in a series of discussions organized by PIPS on the Afghan peace process, include “Emerging 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 it should see it in a bigger picture. 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.

Former Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal in his concluding remarks said Pakistan unfortunately sees Afghanistan as a potential threat for it. The notion was 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 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.

Former Ambassador of Pakistan to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmad Khan remarked that mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan has widened with the passage of time. “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 said 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 National Security Adviser Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua said that Pakistan perhaps did not understand the problems of Taliban. “We are seeing our relations with the Taliban and Afghanistan from the lens of TTP,” he deplored. He said that both countries shared a common future and this should not be made a hostage of one militant group, which is TTP. He suggested that Pakistan needed to re-orientate its thinking towards the neighbouring country.

Former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Riaz Mohammad Khan emphasized that Pakistan needed 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, adding that Pakistan should even go beyond trade with its neighbour.

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 no convergence of strategic interests between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He viewed that 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.

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 that integration in the region was the only way out for Pakistan.

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.”

Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology Dr Qibla Ayaz in his vote of thanks said that both the countries should bring basic changes in their policies towards each other.

Earlier, Director PIPS Muhammad Amir Rana in his welcome remarks said that the purpose of the consultation was to take a review of the major impediments in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and to find a solution to these problems.