Pakistan is the Answer to Afghanistan’s Growth Problem
Sidra Insar Chaudhary
Sidra Insar Chaudhary
On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa along with the ISI chief held talks with President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan to discuss the Afghan peace process. During the talks, the emphasis has been laid on the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government as part of a peace deal signed by the US and Taliban in February after fighting nearly for two decades. The crucial aspect of the deal was the substantial reduction and eventual evacuation of all foreign troops, and assurances from the Taliban that they will not let Afghan soil get used as a terrorist haven. So far both parties to the agreement have behaved as agreed on these points. In addition, the Taliban and the US also agreed to a cease-fire and prisoner exchange for peace and confidence building. Taliban also agreed to hold talks with the Afghan government to negotiate the governing structure, constitution, and power-sharing mechanism between the major stakeholders. These last few impediments are still unsolved puzzles and Islamabad is trying to help bring all concerned parties on agreement on them.
Pakistan has played the role of peace harbinger by persuading all parties to sit at the table and solve the conflict through dialogue. Even the United States had to acknowledge that Pakistan’s role was essential for the agreement. The underlying need for Pakistan to facilitate these talks stemmed from its ambition to have reduced pressure on western borders. The ongoing situation has presented a crucial opportunity for Afghanistan and Pakistan to take their relationship a step further toward collaboration in trade, commerce and cross border connectivity. After some deliberations, both countries could also agree upon a strategic bilateral agreement.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are both Muslim majority countries and share more than a 2500-kilometer-long border called the Durand line. Famous Pakistani philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal declared Pakistan a bridge between South and Central Asia, and Afghanistan the heart of Asia. Allama Iqbal also equated the peace of Afghanistan with the peace of Asia. Pakistan and Afghanistan are tightly linked with each other through cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic ties. Pak-Afghan people to people contact has always been exceptionally strong. Even today, millions of Afghan refugees are living peacefully in Pakistan. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had described Afghanistan and Pakistan’s relationship as “conjoined twins.”
Afghanistan has a young population diaspora with 55 percent of its population being below the age of 25. At the moment, Pakistan is offering 3000 scholarships to young Afghan students. Pakistan has promised to further increase this number and has also pledged to facilitate Afghan students to get vocational training in Pakistan. Moreover, 90% of the Afghans who travel abroad for medical treatment visit Pakistan. Therefore, the potential for medical-related cooperation between the two countries is immense. Pakistan is continuously making it easier for traveling Afghan patients to get treated. Medical student training and scholarships for Afghan students with a focus on helping Afghanistan build a reliable healthcare infrastructure in the country to treat its patients is also a stated bilateral policy goal of Pakistan. Furthermore, another area of cooperation is water diplomacy. River Kabul is considered to be an important traditional link between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The post-Taliban-us deal this could now be turned into an integrated agriculture and food cooperation that utilizes the least resources to produce food items in both countries.
Another area of cooperation between the two countries is utilizing and integrating China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to invigorate domestic economies and improve infrastructural connectivity. Afghanistan is at the heart of the central Asian trading route. With the help of China, Pakistan wants to link Afghanistan with the CPEC to help its neighbour realize its true economic potential.
Afghanistan needs long term technical assistance. Pakistan is already providing its support in defence-related matters. However, Pakistan and Afghanistan can work on establishing a new technical assistance framework that will help develop and train Afghanistan’s institutions to deal with the domestic problems of corruption, terrorism, and poverty. To make this a reality, Pakistan is expediating the diversification of its relations with stakeholders in Afghanistan other than the Taliban.
Of all the challenges for Pak-Afghan cooperation, India’s role as a trouble maker is going to be the most serious obstacle for the future bilateral relationship. India has invested $3 billion in Afghanistan to buy influence. Its goal in Afghanistan is not to advance the peace process but to damage it instead. It also uses its bought influence in Afghanistan to create instability in Pakistan by providing support to anti-Pakistan elements. Fortunately, all parties have realized nefarious Indian ambition and as a result, the country has been told to mind its own business and not interfere with Afghan peace process by the US and the Taliban.
Afghanistan needs to develop structures that will help guide it towards sustainable economic growth. For this to happen, it requires long term assistance from its partners in peace. Pakistan also sees Afghanistan as its partner and wants to develop a framework for the future long-term economic and strategic collaboration. Therefore, it is now in the best interest of all parties concerned that the intra-Afghan peace process won’t be prolonged for too long. Protracted negotiation turmoil will not only shatter Pakistan’s hopes for peace, but it will also intensify internal pressure on Taliban leadership to seek an alternative strategy of continuing the fighting. Afghan stakeholders also need to realize the importance of the Taliban in building peace and stability. Taliban are a political reality and they need to be given their seat at the table.