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Pak Institute for Peace Studies organized 11th quarterly consultation on “Afghan peace and reconciliation: Pakistan’s interests and policy options” in Islamabad on January 18, 2024. The main themes of the consultation included ‘The changing security scenario: Women’s perspective’ and ‘Emerging Pak-Afghan ties: Youth’s perspective.’ The event was attended by female experts and academics, former diplomats, journalists, youths, and policy analysts.

Participants stressed that Pakistan should constantly engage with the incumbent regime in Kabul while keeping in mind its own security interests and refraining from endorsing the Afghan Taliban’s restrictions imposed on women. They insisted that Pakistan should form a special policy for Afghan women and vulnerable communities while offering scholarships, online education, and vocational training.

Pakistan’s former ambassador, Seema Ilahi Baloch, opening the debate, said that the education of women had been worst hit in Afghanistan because of the “Taliban regime’s perceived ideological perception about how women should be.” Women in Afghanistan have very less chance of access to health facilities there, she added. Afghan women including students have been barred from traveling outside their country without a male mahram (family member), she also noted. “We (Pakistan) need to be careful as neighbors but have to see the plight of Afghan women within the Pak-Afghan context, apart from the perspective of human and women’s rights,” Ms. Baloch held. The ex-ambassador also deliberated that Pakistan’s policy of opening doors fully for the Afghan refugees was not necessarily in its national interest, but now it is wrong to forcefully deport them without a proper policy and plan.

Safiya Aftab, policy analyst and Executive Director of Verso Consulting Islamabad, argued that Pakistan’s Afghan policy had been in shambles right from the beginning while it didn’t have any policy for refugees at all. “We cannot look at the Afghans monolithically,” she said, adding that Afghans were quite a diverse community and Pakistan didn’t have a policy to deal with any of those. “To attempt large-scale repatriation of Afghans from Pakistan in the given situation in Afghanistan is very heartless, particularly for girls,” she said.

Senior Coordinator at Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) Elsa Imdad Hussain referred to a report on the two-year rule of the Afghan Taliban to ascertain that the Taliban government might be right [in their claim] in terms of economy, finance, and foreign relations, but women are being treated the wrong way. “Despite the challenges and tough foreign policy that we have, it is an opportunity for Pakistan to come up with a refugee law that should be both human and gender-centric,” she said. She called on the Pakistani authorities to introduce online education programs for Afghan refugee girls and women if there was some compulsion to repatriate them to their home country.

Assistant Professor at Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU), Dr. Sobia Hanif, remarked that women, who comprise 50 percent of the Afghan population, are being subjected to all kinds of human rights violations. “They are being deprived of education, employment rights, and health facilities”, she added. Giving her suggestions, Ms. Sobia said that Pakistan needed to resolve issues with Afghanistan through “constant constructive engagement” with the Taliban-led interim government in Kabul. She stressed that Pakistan should form a special policy for Afghan women, minorities, and people with disabilities besides providing them with facilities of online education and vocational training.

Assistant Professor at Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU), Dr. Samrana Afzal, viewed that Pakistan should go for quiet diplomacy and public messaging with the Taliban government in meeting the demands on governance, including the respect for basic rights and counterterrorism commitments. “Islamabad should keep its own security interests in mind in dealing with Kabul and refrain from endorsing the Afghan Taliban’s restrictions imposed on women,” she said.
TV host and social activist, Tanzeela Mazhar, endorsed other participants by saying that Pakistan should have a separate and specific policy for Afghan women and vulnerable communities. “Pakistan should clearly state that it stands for human and women’s rights distancing itself from the Taliban’s policies,” she further said.

Associate Professor at Quaid-e-Azam University, Dr. Salma Malik, the moderator of a session, argued that Pakistan should talk to the rulers in Kabul and offer online education facilities to Afghan women. She suggested that Islamabad should allow young Afghan girls to complete their education through the syllabus of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Director of Afghan Women Association in Islamabad, Nargis Mansoor, highlighted that current restrictions enforced by the Afghan Taliban on the right to education of women in Afghanistan would cause a severe shortage of teachers and doctors in the war-torn country in the future.

Senior journalist based in Islamabad, Azaz Syed, argued that political parties in Pakistan aren’t taking initiative as far as Pakistan’s relations with its neighboring countries are concerned. “They misunderstand that this specific area is the domain of security establishment”, he concluded.

Anchorperson and Economic Correspondent at The Express Tribune, Kamran Yousaf, said that Pakistan’s policy for Afghanistan always remains individual-based and has never been institutional. He saw no improvement in the ongoing deadlock between Pak-Afghan relations.

Student activist, Asad Khan Toori, pointed out that Pakistan’s policies towards Afghanistan, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and counterterrorism were vague and argued for bringing clarity in those.