Post Event Report on the Visit of Austrian Scholars to IPRI

Austrian scholars visited IPRI on April 2, 2014 and had an insightful exchange of perspectives during discussion over current issues concerning Pakistan-India relations, security situation in Afghanistan and power potential of Pakistan.

Austrian Scholars

  • Dr. Werner Fassalabend, President of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES)
  • Brigadier General Walter Feichtinger, Director of the Institute for Peace Support and Conflict Management, Austrian National Defence Academy
  • Nasra Hussan

IPRI Scholars

  • President IPRI, Ambassador Sohail Amin
  • Col (R) Muhammad Hanif
  • Air Cdr (R) Khalid Iqbal
  • Khalid Chandio
  • Muhammad Nawaz Khan
  • Maria Syed

Summary of the Main Discussion:

President IPRI, Ambassador Sohail Amin, welcomed the Austrian scholars and briefed them about IPRI. The discussion lasted for about one and a half hour as elaborated below:-

  • Explaining about the power potential of Pakistan, IPRI President remarked that Pakistan was misunderstood in the western countries. The reality was different in respect of Pakistan’s potential, which was developing with 180 million people, 50% of them were under 22 years of age. It had democratic system, vibrant civil society, independent judiciary and media. Its geo-strategic location made it an important country in the international arena.
  • Austrian scholars appreciated the power potential of Pakistan. They noted that the way Pakistan underwent the difficult situation during the last decade and the manner it tackled the chaotic order was much better than what one could expect. Undoubtedly, the biggest potential of Pakistan was its fast growing population but it might be one of the major challenges for it in future, if Pakistan did not concentrate seriously on its security and economic issues. The sound security is a prerequisite for economic investment especially for direct foreign investment. Pakistan needed sound economic development for its stability otherwise social unrest could occur and might get support from the outside and pose serious consequences for the state. Furthermore, they commented that regionally Pakistan had been entrapped in the web of grim situation due to Afghan instability, sanctions on Iran, and deep historical hostility with India. In this regard, Pakistan needed to open up its trade route from east to west and vice versa for India and Afghanistan. It should open its market for India to enhance economic activities. China was using the geo-strategic location of Pakistan for its own benefit to develop the western part of China. They further stated that if United States (US) wanted to be a part of transit politics in South Asia then it would have to support Pakistan and help in stabilizing Afghanistan.
  • The Austrian scholar suggested that Pakistan should work out wider economic collaboration with Iran and Turkey. This would help Pakistan in reaching out to the European market, and in connecting Central Asia and Europe with South Asia. This required long-term holistic strategy to materialize the regional connectivity.
  • On Pakistan-India relations, Austrian delegation was told that Pakistan would like to normalize relations with India but on the basis of equality. Looking at the Indian neighbourhood, one realized that no peripheral country enjoyed normal relations with New Delhi. For instance, under the Treaty of Friendship between India and Bhutan, the latter state was not supposed to make an independent foreign policy without New Delhi’s approval. In the case of Nepal, it was observed that the country’s lifeline could be choked within a day if India ever chose to close its border with Nepal as New Delhi had done more than once in the past. During Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgency in Sri Lanka, Indian troops were sent to Sri Lanka which Colombo still did not forget. Resultantly, all Indian peripheral countries had mistrust toward India. The smaller states of South Asia considered Pakistan as a counter weight against India, since Pakistan was the only country in South Asia which could talk to New Delhi on equal footing.
  • As far as Pakistan’s relations with India were concerned Islamabad had genuine concerns against New Delhi relating to their hegemonic designs. Pakistan was trying to solve the outstanding issues between Pakistan and India including Kashmir. The present government wanted to restart the Composite Dialogue with India. There was a need to convince India by International community. While Pakistan endeavoured to solve all outstanding political issues with India during President Musharraf’s era, there was no progress due to persistent Indian stubbornness. Thus, there was a need to change the prevalent Indian thinking that Pakistan was not a state like other small South Asian states.
  • Austrian delegation enquired about the security situation in Afghanistan. They were informed that all stakeholders including the US, neighbouring countries, the Afghan government and Taliban were fully aware of uncertainties pertaining to Afghanistan’s future. They talked about Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliatory peace process. There was a paradox in it that against the backdrop of a country having 60,000/70,000 foreign troops, with monopolized state structure dominated by certain ethnic groups and questionable credibility of Afghan President Karzi, it was not possible to have an honest peace broker and Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliatory peace process would be jeopardized.
  • Explaining the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan quagmire, Austrian delegation was told that Pakistan was playing a positive role in the Afghan peace process. Pakistan believed that the reconciliatory peace process should be based on understanding among all Afghan ethnic groups. In this regard, on the request of Afghan government, Pakistan had released a number of Afghan Taliban who were under detention in Pakistan with the objective to facilitate Afghan national reconciliatory process. The last three decades of fighting in Afghanistan had had a serious spillover effect on Pakistan, adversely affecting its economy and law and order situation. If Afghanistan got destabilized, Pakistan would definitely suffer the most. For Pakistan, the fundamental concern was the effectiveness of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) after withdrawal of ISAF forces. Shortcomings of ANSF would weaken government’s control over the rogue elements. This would mean lawlessness and infighting in Afghanistan and more refugees coming to Pakistan.

o   Regarding the Indian role in Afghan affairs,Austrian delegation was told that India’s active involvement in Afghanistan had been a cause of worry for Pakistan which had long been complaining about India’s role in destabilization of Balochistan. It was perceived that India could exploit the unstable situation in Afghanistan and it might become a battlefield for proxy war between Pakistan and India.

o   Austrian delegation asked IPRI scholars to comment on major changes which had occurred in Afghanistan since 2001. They were informed that over the years and in the face of present instability and insurgency there had been signs of some positive changes occurring in Afghanistan with features like: a) there were 90,000 students in the Taliban era but now there were 8.4 million Afghan students and among them more than 40% were girls; b)there was avibrant Afghan civil society; c) Afghan women were participating in different spheres of life, etc.

o   Austrian delegation expressed their concern about Afghanistan’s economic situation after 2014. They argued that the Afghan economy was built on peripheral subsidiary structures related to supporting administration and operation of ISAF. There was a fear that after withdrawal those structures would become fragile and small and medium enterprises would suffer. They suggested that there was a need to establish international programmes in order to run Afghan economy after the departure of foreign forces.

 

DISCLAMER: These are the views of the scholars and not necessarily the view of either IPRI or any other government Institute

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About the Author

Muhammad Nawaz Khan is Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute

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