Post withdrawal Afghanistan: Vital to understand current situation of Afghanistan and way forward to have better Pak-Afghan relations

F.P. Report

PESHAWAR: After the withdrawal of the US and the NATO forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of power on August 15, 2021, contemporary Afghanistan is passing through the worst humanitarian crisis. The situation is alarming not only for Afghanistan but for all the regional states specially Pakistan which is a host country to millions Afghan refugees and experiencing another influx of new Afghan refugees including women, children, and students.

Furthermore, the alarming economic situation particularly caused by the US sanctions impacted economic activity leading to extreme poverty and posing many political, security, social, and cultural challenges with serious implications for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Considering the context, the main idea of the event was to evaluate the current scenario in the presence of Representative of Afghanistan, the Area Experts and the Students, both Afghan and Pakistani, to suggest the way forward and potential policy options.

Moreover, the motive was to deliberate on the themes of security-based paradigm, cross border movement, National security, People to people interaction, Policy Incoherence towards Afghanistan and the emerging questions such as: What are the main features of Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan after the recent changes in that country? How a mechanism can be developed for national security advisors of Pakistan and Afghanistan and from neighbors of Afghanistan to meet on a regular basis?

How can the government of Afghanistan help the government of Pakistan in reducing growing terrorist attacks that have intensified after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan? Is a shift from a security paradigm to trade and regional labour market paradigm possible? What preconditions needs to be in place for this paradigm shift? How can the two countries rationalize visa regimes such that students, patients, and traders can cross over easily? How successful has been the border management initiatives taken in the past?

How to mitigate negative perceptions among the people of the two countries about each other? What can the governments do to address these negative tendencies?” What is Way forward for Pakistan and Afghanistan mutual cooperation in current circumstances? What are the key bottlenecks to expansion of trade and investment between Afghanistan and Pakistan (particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)? How can Pakistan make its foreign policy towards Afghanistan inclusive by taking local stakeholders from KP and Baluchistan onboard?

How can Pakistan’s strategy of repatriation as the ultimate solution be modified towards a policy of reform in refugee management in the country? Welcome Address by Prof. Shabir Ahmad Khan, Director, Area Study Centre (Russia, China and Central Asia) University of Peshawar Proceeding of the conference started with the welcome address by Prof. Dr. Shabir Ahmad Khan, Director, Area Study centre (Russia, China and Central Asia), University of Peshawar. He captioned the days gathering as “vital to understand the current situation of Afghanistan and the way forward to have better Pak-Afghan relations”. He emphasized on the importance of today’s topic regarding the tribulations in Afghanistan in the context of national interest of Pakistan and its importance for the region and the entire world as well. Dr. Shabir said that after the withdrawal, the political and economic fabric in Afghanistan is disturbed and there are three dimensions to it.

These are (1) Afghanistan’s domestic including governance, economic and security (2) regional problems including ethnic and political ties with other states and (3) global issues including sanctions and legitimacy. Furthermore, he added that diversion of world attention due to Russian-Ukraine war is another fundamental problem and at the same time the non-recognition and importantly discrediting the constructive efforts of Pakistan is hampering the relationship. The speaker suggested to: To develop a regional mechanism for a strategic regional alignment it is imperative particularly for the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan to develop a platform for regular consultations of national security advisors where China and Pakistan may play the role of front liners. Afghanistan must play the role of gateway to Central and South Asia rather than a shatter belt. Even despite non-recognition of the Afghan interim government the movement of trade convey and regional trade may be encouraged and enhanced. Better management of porous Pak-Afghan border is in the interest of both countries and at the same time the hateful statement must be discouraged from both sides of the borders. Least weaponization of the border crossings. People of Afghanistan must take part and lead in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The complete research work is reproduced here as: “The sufferings of Afghans brothers and sisters continue despite of foreign troop’s withdrawal.

The social, political and economic fabric of Afghan society has been devastated by the external military interventions and domestic fragmentation. International sanctions and nonrecognition are adversely affecting all sectors of life. There are three dimensions to the Afghan imbroglio i.e. Afghanistan’s domestic, regional and global. Internally the economic and governance related issues, presence of various terrorist organizations and legitimacy linked problems exacerbating the challenges. The regional countries particularly the neighbors of Afghanistan have ethnic, linguistic and political ties with the country, they have to support and help Afghanistan to move in a right direction. Respect and interests are mutual concepts. Afghanistan and its neighbours have to respect and accommodate each-others interests for shared prosperity and security. Nurturing proxies will lead towards common destruction. The major powers have conflicting interests in Afghanistan and in the region. The covert support of global power brokers to militias and terrorist groups poses greater threat to Afghanistan and the region as well.

Afghanistan and the region have to sink or swim together. Countries of the region have to address the security and economic issues from a regional perspective. A regional mechanism need to be developed to help Afghanistan and the entire region. For a strategic regional alignment, it is imperative particularly for the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan to develop a platform for regular consultations of national security advisors. China and Pakistan may take the lead in this regard. The entire region Central and South Asia depends on smooth relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Historically the areas of current day Pakistan and Afghanistan served as the main artery of trade and logistics in all directions. I have developed a concept i.e. transition from shatter-belt to regionalism. Shatter belt is a region subject to external interventions and internal divisions. An important question does arise that whether it is external intervention or internal divisions that turn a region into a shatter belt? Answer to this question demands intensive research on shatter belt regions. I am optimistic that with the withdrawal of US/NATO forces and diverted Russian attention due to conflict with Ukraine; Central Asia is ready to move from a shatter-belt status to a gate way region, revive the historical links and open up in southern direction.

This will materialize the Central and South economic corridor with a vast network of energy pipeline, railway, highways and electricity lines via a stable Afghanistan. This paradigm shift from security to connectivity is possible through a regional approach and a pledge from the neighbors of Afghanistan in particular and the international community in general to intervene positively and constructively in Afghanistan. Research suggests that high risk states are strongly influenced through trade as greater trade openness reduces the likelihood that high risk states will originate or participate in conflicts, resort to violence or increase levels of repression. In this regard movement of trade convoys need to be enhanced and accelerated through smooth border crossings between Pakistan and CARs via Afghanistan irrespective of international recognition. Security measures shall be placed on border crossings however weaponizing border crossing serves no one’s interests.

A paradigm shift towards trade and connectivity is very much possible if we could learn lessons from practices world over. China and USA are countering and challenging each other in various regions but their trade is almost $600 billion, China and India are fighting each other but their bilateral trade is around $80 billion. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the closest allies and the two wars of resistance by Afghans turned into a success with the full support (overt or covert) from within Pakistan. The republican government established a museum in Herat to celebrate the Afghan Jihad but no credit has been given to Pakistan. Against the recent US/NATO war in Afghanistan, the Afghans found every kind of support from within Pakistan due to religious, ethnic, linguistic and economic bonds. The Afghan refugees have spent their time in Pakistan in a peaceful manner. According to the Commissionarate for Afghan Refugees, less than 1% of the Afghans are involved in criminal activities as per the FIRs registered in Pakistan.

The Afghans for decades have been receiving their education and getting livelihood peacefully in Pakistan and therefore they will remain loyal to Pakistan. It is believed that when the pull factors in Afghanistan will develop, Afghans will definitely prefer to live in and serve their own country. No one will reconstruct Afghanistan; the Afghans themselves have to reconstruct their country. Going back to the history of the Muslim subcontinent, the Muslim rulers of South Asia ruled up to Kabul for centuries. Pakistan territory remained under the Durrani Empire for merely half a century, while areas up to Kabul remained under South Asian Muslim rulers for more than two centuries. It is time to bury narratives of the past and move together towards a bright and secure future in the interests of the masses. The borders all over the world are jointly managed by the respective countries for mutual security. Throughout the history border fences and walls have been built for security and sovereignty purposes.

According to one source there were only 15 border walls at the end of the cold war while in 2020 number of such walls have increased to 77. An unhindered porous border provides easy access to anti-state actors, militants, drug traffickers and criminal elements. A logical apprehension persisted domestically and internationally that porous Pak-Afghan border negatively affecting the peace on both sides. Therefore, border management has been a key component of Pakistan’s counter terrorism strategy for which fencing of the Pak-Afghan border started. There is a need to have a joint mechanism between Pakistan and Afghanistan for border management for enhanced security. It is imperative that the senior leaders on either side avoid hate filled statements which became a norm in the republican era (post 9/11). While the republican governments (Karzai and Ghani) failed due to incompetence, corruption and indiscriminate bombings of wedding and funeral ceremonies, they succeeded in nurturing hatred and blaming Pakistan for their failure.

In the end, suggest such kind of cooperation and connectivity between Pakistan and Afghanistan that resemble a kind of confederation between the two countries. It is important to deliberate upon various issues pertaining to Afghanistan, Pak-Afghan ties and the region at large. This is the purpose of today’s Conference. I hope and pray for fruitful deliberations on various aspects of the subject. The report will be published and shared with relevant quarters” Dr. Shabir Ahmed Khan, concluded his welcome address and welcomed the next Speaker, Prof. Dr. Azmat Hayat Khan, Former Vice chancellor university of Peshawar to share is views on “What are the main features of Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan after the recent changes in that country? How a mechanism can be developed for national security advisors of Pakistan and Afghanistan and from neighbors of Afghanistan to meet on a regular basis?

Prof. Dr. Azmat Hayat Khan, Former Vice Chancellor University He appreciated the Area Study Centre (Russia, China and Central Asia) for organizing such an important event and also complemented the Centre for its contributions in the form of information and research work on the region of Central Asia including Afghanistan. The speaker also thanked for invitation and both, speakers and students, for their presence. Dr. Azmat hayat highlighted that Pakistan has no Afghan Policy and was mostly reactionary during all these 45 years of war in Afghanistan Pakistan has suffered a lot. It is equally true that other countries of the region do not have such interests in Afghanistan as Pakistan has, the security of Pakistan is linked to Afghanistan situation whereas at same time the Economic Viability of Afghanistan is heavily dependent on Pakistan.

The Pakistan and Afghanistan together offer a huge market more 250+ Million consumers and especially the people of KP and Baluchistan heavily depends Afghanistan for trade. He concluded that Pakistan also plays an important role and serves as Economic life line for Afghanistan. So it is important for both states to cooperate and develop better relationship in terms of Security and Economy.