Fifth Ministerial Moot: Heart of Asia 2015

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By Muhammad Nawaz Khan  : – 

As the end of the drawdown of international forces approaches in Afghanistan, concerns are mounting about its potential impact on regional stability. Afghanistan is at the threshold of the transformation decade. There is well-placed optimism in the air that ensuring the success of political, security and economic transition is critically important to preserve this precious moment of hope. In this regard, Pakistan welcomed the historic transfer of power from one elected President to another elected President — as part of the peaceful democratic transition. Pakistan has been a supporter of international efforts in Afghanistan. It has been constructively engaged with the Istanbul Peace (IP) process since its inception and co-lead Disaster Management-CBM, along with Kazakhstan. Therefore, in consultation with the two co-chairs, China and Afghanistan, Pakistan offered to host the forthcoming Fifth Ministerial Meeting of the IP in 2015. In this regard, the two-day crucial ministerial meeting will be held in Islamabad on December 7 and 8 and will be attended by the foreign ministers of 26 countries.

With renewed spirit of cooperation in the Heart of Asia region, Pakistan looks forward to intensifying its efforts for peace and development of Afghanistan. Furthermore, the continuity of further discussions and adopting concrete steps in the forthcoming IP process in Islamabad at this pivotal moment of Afghanistan’s history, will be both timely and beneficial for the policy community — not only for Heart of Asia countries, but also the wider region. Besides, since Afghanistan is undergoing multiple transitions, the forthcoming Ministerial Conference under Pakistan’s co-chair will provide a crucial opportunity for enhancing further cooperation through achieving consensus among the Heart of Asia countries and the wider international community on achieving lasting peace, sustainable security and economic development in Afghanistan and in the Heart of Asia region.

Security and economic development are closely intertwined in this context; the forthcoming Fifth Ministerial Conference of IP in Pakistan can be helpful to Kabul in identifying and discussing ways of resolving political, technical and economical obstacles, which prevent the materialization of regional economic projects that are beneficial to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region. Therefore, IP platform is beneficial for regional connectivity through greater confidence building among countries of the region and accelerated implementation of measures that would facilitate travel and harmonize trade and transit procedures, as well as other forms of legitimate interaction among countries.

Pakistan firmly supports peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan, and will help Afghanistan, not in words but with concrete actions, to enhance capacity-building for independent development. It is ready to step up cooperation with Afghanistan in such areas as infrastructure, agriculture, education and security personnel training. Pakistan takes and will continue to take an active part in the cooperation on CBMs within the framework of the IP. But there are two elements that Islamabad requires from Kabul and the region: First, Afghanistan needs to show determination to enhance its cooperation with Pakistan for dismantling the sanctuaries and training bases which have been established in Afghanistan including the cutting off of sources of funding, combat arms, to the militants and stopping lethal goods smuggling, and strengthen border control between them. Islamabad is committed to maintain its input into the capacity-building and support the ANSF in order to ensure the security transition, which is an important element towards regional security. Second, every effort needs to be made to ensure that neither is there any attempt from outside to fill-in any perceived security vacuum in Afghanistan, nor is there any economic vacuum allowed to emerge.

For instance, India’s role is dubious in the eyes of Islamabad, given the worrisome Indian play in Afghanistan. Despite the recognized fact that Pakistan is a victim to terrorism, India is benefiting from the on-ground situation by its dirty meddling in Afghanistan, underground activities in Balochistan and aiding terrorist activities in big cities of Pakistan. Given the fast pace of India’s participation in the developmental work in Afghanistan, it is assumed that India can exploit the unstable situation in Afghanistan turning it into a battle field of proxy war against Pakistan or other  neighbours may also become party to the nefarious designs of New Delhi. India being the extended neighbour of Afghanistan faces no direct threat from Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistan provides a buffer state to India against Afghanistan’s backlash.

As far as the instability in Afghanistan is concerned, it has direct implications for Pakistan. That is why peace in Afghanistan is Pakistan’s first priority and it encourages and supports the conciliation process in Afghanistan. If there is peace in Afghanistan there will be peace in Pakistan in particular and the region in general. What is happening today in Pakistan is the direct fallout of the extremist rise in Afghanistan, something that needs to be acknowledged internationally and any change in Afghanistan will bring a simultaneous impact on Pakistan. Pakistan’s future prospects are closely linked to the security situation in Afghanistan. Therefore, an end to insurgency in Afghanistan is bound to stabilize Pakistan.

The emerging Pak-Afghan relations, in the context of NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, are providing significant opportunities for the two countries to strengthen their cooperation at the bilateral and multilateral levels. However, it is positive to note that both countries are witnessing improvement in their mutual relations. Especially, after the change of Afghanistan government, the relations between the two countries have taken a new positive turn and Islamabad needs to continue its support to encouraging the dialogues among the Heart of Asia countries to find peaceful solutions of conflicts affecting the whole region. But in post Kunduz incident, Afghan President seems to be in some disillusion or misperception as once he said that Pakistan should have same definitions for terrorists and terrorism, for itself and Afghanistan. This indeed is a rhetoric used by India and former Afghan President Mr Hamid Karzai. Moreover, in his interview to BBC, President Ghani spoke of Pak-Afghan relationship as not brotherly one but like the two states. Indeed, this is disregard to the Pakistan’s contributions towards Afghan people.

The reality is that Pakistan has been housing millions of Afghan refugees without any external assistance since 1979. Still, there are 2.6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and enjoying all facilities. Which country in the world supported refugees of other countries for so long and in such a massive size, the way Pakistan did? Around 500,000 Afghan refugee children are getting education in Pakistani schools, while more than 1,200 Afghan children cross the border daily to attend English-medium schools in Pakistan, via Torkham. Besides, more than 52 thousands of Afghan people enter Pakistan in the morning to earn their daily bread and return back in the evening with smiles and happiness. All logistic support and bulk of food items and daily needs of Afghan people are met from Pakistan.

In a nutshell, after having suffered heavily out of foreign intervention, internal wars, the war on terror, the current Afghan government has to realize that Afghan people now need peace and development and for this objective to achieve, it is necessary that the government lays maximum emphasis on national reconciliation through peace talks among all ethnic groups in Afghanistan. In this perspective, the only option is to give the right to Afghan locals to decide their own fate, while the regional powers and international community plays a facilitating role.

The writer works for IPRI

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