PIPS CONSULTATION-10 ON AFGHAN PEACE & RECONCILIATION
Pak Institute for Peace Studies organized 10th quarterly consultation on “Afghan peace and reconciliation: Pakistan’s interests and policy options” in Islamabad on November 16, 2023. The main themes of the consultation included ‘Rising terrorism threat from TTP, IS-K (Islamic State Khorasan) and other groups’ and ‘Emerging Pak-Afghan ties: Dynamics and projections.’ The event was attended by academics, politicians, journalists, religious scholars, human rights activists, and experts on Afghan affairs, from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The experts urged the caretaker federal government to carefully deal with the issue of repatriation of illegal Afghan immigrants as their expulsion in haste would make them susceptible to radicalization due to almost no opportunities of livelihood in neighbouring Afghanistan.
They warned that Pakistan needed a long-term political strategy and should revisit its entire Afghan policy by making it civilian-led, otherwise the country faces the threat of another conflict.
Former lawmaker and political activist, Mohsin Dawar, said that the present caretaker setup could not make a proper mechanism for smooth repatriation of illegal Afghan immigrants. He warned that such people would serve as a “raw material for war” after returning to Afghanistan as the war-torn country was unable to provide livelihood to such a large number of people.
He underlined that Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan would deteriorate further the way Afghan immigrants had been expelled “abruptly” and issues of trade between the two countries are cropping up every day.
Dawar went on to say that peace in the entire region couldn’t be attained until the Taliban continue to seize power in Kabul. He said that there was no input of real stakeholders of Pakistan in the formulation of its Afghan policy. “Pakistan should have clarity in its policy for Afghanistan and to end terrorism in the country, in a real sense,” he added.
Associate Professor of International Relations at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Dr Rizwana Karim Abbasi, said Pakistan’s repatriation policy would create a lot of mistrust between Islamabad and Kabul. “Pakistan should make a clear-cut policy about Afghanistan by bringing on board all stakeholders,” she remarked.
Arifa Noor, a journalist associated with Dawn, said, “we need to modernize the state for solving the modern-day problems”. She further suggested that to counter terrorism, Pakistan needs a political strategy in addition to military strategy.
Abdullah Khan, an expert on regional security and militancy, opined that although there is convergence between the TTP and Afghan Taliban there is a lot of divergence between them as well; they are different and have different goals. Criticizing the recent decision to expel Afghan refugees, he said that there is a method to repatriate and it was wrong to tell numerous Afghan refugees in Pakistan to leave in such a short period of time.
Dr. Syed Qandil Abbas, Assistant Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU, Islamabad commented, “because of our policies another India is emerging on your western border”. “We have not focused on resolving the Durand Line issue yet”, he said further.
Former defence secretary, Lt Gen (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, argued that Pakistan should first set its own house in order. “We would have to strengthen our inner front,” he said. He further said that the policy of confusion would not work anymore. “The legitimate representatives of people should decide the country’s foreign policy,” he said, adding that the country’s policy towards Afghanistan and other regional countries should be led by its elected representatives of the public.
Political analyst and expert on regional affairs, Afrasiab Khattak, speaking on his turn underscored that Afghan Taliban couldn’t bring peace in their own country because they were an armed militia. He said that peace in Afghanistan is only linked with “national reconciliation.”
The ex-Senator, Khattak, endorsed other experts by saying that Pakistan needs to correct its decision-making mechanisms and make a new “inclusive” Afghan policy by entirely changing the previous one. “Islamabad should re-establish its relations with Kabul, otherwise we are facing the threat of another conflict,” he cautioned.
President of the International Research Council for Religious Affairs (IRCRA), Muhammad Israr Madani, said that Pakistan should have engaged with the civil society and international aid groups before taking the decision of expelling illegal Afghan immigrants. He also said that it appeared that the caretaker government was not well-prepared for the “smooth” repatriation of immigrants.
Dr. Nazish Mahmood, Assistant Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU, Islamabad, while talking about Pakistan’s decision to expel 1.7 million Afghan refugees said, “we have created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis”.
Farzana Ali, Bureau Chief of Aaj News in Peshawar, said, “the common man in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa appreciated the decision to expel the Afghan refugees”. “If it is said that the policy to of sending back the Afghan refugees was wrong, I think the timing was not right”, she remarked.
Zia Ur Rehman, a journalist and analyst based in Karachi, underscored that the TTP benefitted from the socio-political turmoil in Pakistan. “The state’s focus was on the internal affairs and economy and rather than terrorism”, he remarked.
Maulana Yusuf Shah, central secretary general JUI-S & Chairman Muttahida Ulema Board, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said, “the TTP fighters are in Pakistan and do not come from Afghanistan as is said and believed; the TTP has its own local sub-groups that are involved in the terror activities”. He urged the Pakistani government to take action against the local militants.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, a Quetta-based senior journalist & ex-president PFUJ, lamented that the political parties kept silent when the decision was made to expel Afghan refugees. “Those [Afghan refugees] who were leaving Pakistan hoped that the Pashtun nationalist parties would raise voice for them, but it did not happen”, he said.
Tahir Khan, a senior journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, said, “knee-jerk reactions and harsh statements from Pakistan have played a big role in worsening relations between the two countries”. “Afghan Taliban are confused that how can they engage with Pakistan in a situation when there are only threatening statements from its leadership”, he commented.
Former Deputy Speaker of the Lower House of Afghan Parliament, Amanullah Paiman, remarked that Afghan Taliban would not compromise on their ideology as they were “inflexible.” He suggested that Pakistan should look for other options to engage with Afghan people. He also expressed his concerns over women rights violations in Afghanistan and urged Pakistan to help them in this regard.
Former National Security Advisor, Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua, while talking about the issue of cross-border terrorism in Pakistan said that the problem of the banned TTP was a remnant of the Afghan conflict. “Unfortunately, Pakistan has no strategy to deal with an enemy that operates from another sovereign country,” he said. He further said that Pakistan should have to resolve the matter by engaging with the Taliban government in Kabul.
Janjua concluded that Pakistan was apparently “living in an old framework and needed a new policy towards Afghanistan.”
Earlier, Director PIPS, Muhammad Amir Rana, in his introductory remarks, said that the purpose of the discussion was to review Pak-Afghan relations in the wake of the on-going repatriation of illegal immigrants and the recent upsurge in terrorism incidents in Pakistan.