Conference / Seminar / Webinar 23/05/2017
Two-Day International Conference
“Achieving Peace in Afghanistan: Challenges and Prospects”
Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)
In collaboration with
Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Islamabad
Serena Hotel, Islamabad
May 10-11, 2017
Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Islamabad organized a two day International Conference on “Achieving Peace in Afghanistan: Challenges and Prospects” on May 10-11, 2017 at Serena Hotel, Islamabad. Speakers from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Iran, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom participated in the conference and presented their papers. The conference was aimed to discuss the future of the Afghanistan conflict, especially with regards to capacity and capability of the state institutions, possible scenarios that can emerge in 2017 and beyond, and how well Afghanistan and the international community is prepared to meet the emerging challenges for achieving peace. Further, it was intended to assess the immense potential the country has to offer in order to convert it from a security-driven paradigm to a peace and development-driven milieu.
Throughout its turbulent history, Afghanistan, despite an astounding social cohesion, has been characterized by a confederate balance of tribal interests, rather than a strong central government. Recently, the perpetual war of more than three decades has dishevelled the Afghan society. In addition to the increased Taliban insurgency in the wake of the Coalition Forces’ withdrawal and frail socio-political and economic structures, the expansion of ISIS in Afghanistan, the documented presence of Al-Qaeda operatives amongst other terrorist outfits, the opium trade and rampant corruption, have contributed to the severity of the convoluted conflict. 1.2 million internally displaced Afghans provide an excellent recruitment base for the Taliban and terrorist organizations.
The constantly changing dynamics of war have limited the range of tenable outcomes of the conflict, hence; have worsened the security situation despite the efforts made by the Afghan and Coalition forces. The Taliban today contest and control more territory than they have ever controlled after their government was brought down in 2001. Both the Taliban and the ANSF are in a flux in terms of capacity and both cannot sustain their battlefield successes. There is still room for optimism as the recognised structural flaws in the management of the ANSF and their capacity building, can be fixed with political will and consistent support by Afghanistan’s allies.
The international community has grown to be more practical and less ambitious with what can be achieved in Afghanistan. There is a general consensus amongst all the major stakeholders which have been directly or indirectly involved in the conflict, that sustainable peace in Afghanistan is not possible without a political settlement, which is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. Thus a dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan Government is increasingly being promoted and pursued. The talks between the Taliban and the Afghan National Unity Government (NUG) in September 2016 were the first initiative after a string of efforts which remained inconclusive for one reason or another. Pakistan assisted peace talks, first by Mullah Omar, the then Supreme Leader of the Taliban, and later with Mullah Akhtar Mansour, his successor. Those talks did not achieve their intended end due to the leader’s death during the ongoing negotiations. The consequent lack of leadership has divided the Taliban into different factions which derailed the peace process further.
With the incoming new government in the United States of America, there is a huge question mark regarding the continued engagement of one of the most important actors in this simmering crisis in finding a sustainable solution to Afghanistan’s problems. With the widening trust deficit between regional states and the U.S.; China, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia have initiated a regional dialogue on the future of Afghanistan and respective security implications for these states.
Stunted economy is another major hurdle to the peace process in Afghanistan. Currently, more than 70 per cent of Afghanistan’s governmental budget is financed by and through Foreign aid. In November 2016, the White House recommended to the Congress to allocate at least USD 11.6 billion for the U.S.’ current campaign against Islamic State militants and the war in Afghanistan. With rampant corruption and unaccountability, there is an obvious hazard of the funds being misappropriated. Through a resulting donor fatigue, Afghanistan might be pushed into a fiscal crisis. Afghanistan provides immense opportunities which could benefit the region in particular and the world at large. In the coming years, Afghanistan’s strategic location can act as a bridge between different regions of the world. It provides communication links between South Asia and Central Asia, and also connects this region with East and West Asia. Moreover, Afghanistan is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, 33 percent of which are estimated at a worth of USD 1 to 3 trillion. The country is projected to become the largest producer of copper and iron in the world within the next 15 years. 14 of the 17 rare earth metals are found on its territory, and its ample marble resources could be enough to last the entire region for 400 years, according to estimates.
To be able to shed light on the evolving situation in Afghanistan and the challenges it poses to the international community and the prospect of peace in the war-ridden country, the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and the Pakistan office of the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) jointly organised a two day International Conference. In order to hold a robust and balanced discussion, the eminent scholars belonging to academia, media and policy making spheres were invited from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Russia, the United States and Pakistan who presented their papers on the topics assigned to them.
Proceedings of the Conference
Brig (R) Sohail Tirmizi, Acting President, Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in his welcome address said that Pakistan has higher stakes in the stability of Afghanistan as the conflict in Afghanistan has direct bearing on Pakistan. He said that earlier, war against Soviets in 1980s and later on war on terror had unbearable consequences for Afghanistan and Pakistan and negatively impacted the socioeconomic development of the two countries. He said that bringing warring parties of Afghanistan to the negotiating table in not the responsibility of Pakistan alone, but there is strategic ambiguity as far as international efforts for peace in Afghanistan are concerned. He highlighted the rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan as a new complex dynamic in the Afghan conflict. He said that political instability and the polarization in Afghan society are not the only challenges but there are various socioeconomic challenges – dependence on foreign aid, illegal parallel economies, drug trafficking, gender inequalities, poverty, illiteracy and radicalization of society that also need to be addressed on a priority basis. He highlighted that Pakistan supports Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process. He added that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan will facilitate regional economic integration and help to curtail extremism in its own society and the region as well.
Mr. Kristof Duwaerts, Resident Representative, Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), in his Opening Remarks talked about frequently heard notions such as Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process; peace in Pakistan depends on peace in Afghanistan. He said that Obama Administration devised the term Af-Pak that seems relevant due to the deep intertwinement of history and the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He highlighted the third notion, heard in Pakistan-Afghanistan context is that we cannot choose our neighbours, but we can choose what kind of neighbours we can be. He further said that making such choices pre-necessitate firm knowledge that goes beyond stereotypization. He said that abridging notions such as Turban, the Taliban and Terrorism are hurtful and do not contribute to sustainable relationships. He said that the public image of Pakistan in Afghanistan does not reflect the sacrifices that Pakistan has rendered to Afghanistan. He said that commonalities between the two countries outweigh the divergences and there is a need to start a sustainable dialogue process to address the issues of divergence.
Chief Guest, His Excellency Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan for Foreign Affairs, in his inaugural address pointed out that terrorist outfits have been crossing through the Pakistan-Afghanistan porous border for launching terrorist activities in Pakistan. He said that Pakistan has always made sincere efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Referring to Pakistan’s assistance to Afghanistan, he said that Pakistan has initiated several development projects in Afghanistan worth $ US 500 million. Moreover, Pakistan had extended transit trade facilities in Afghanistan through its ports under Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).
Mr. Sartaj Aziz said that the strengthening of border management with Afghanistan and Iran has been a top priority for the Government of Pakistan to avoid terrorist incidents and cross-border infiltration of the terrorists. He highlighted that during the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Pakistan, strengthening of border management was discussed in detail. Regarding Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia for the Islamic summit, he said that the summit would discuss the issues pertaining to the Islamic world including Palestine and Kashmir. He said that the lack of progress in the peace process, emerging threat of the Islamic State, drug trafficking, the resettlement of returning refugees are some of the issues that have been making it difficult for Afghanistan to create a stable country. He said that these issues are affecting not only Afghanistan’s neighbours, but the entire region. He further stated that meaningful engagement between Pakistan and Afghanistan is essential for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.
Session 1: Existing situation in Afghanistan
Dr. Farhan Hanif Siddiqi, Associate Professor, School of Politics & International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan identified geopolitical and geo-economics as the two important regional dynamics in the current scenario. According to him, the geopolitical dynamics, unfortunately, have been very hostile and have all centred in Pakistan for one reason or the other. He opined that the other dynamic is geo-economics, which is equally interesting because of CPEC. While speaking on the future of regional stability, he argued that both the above mentioned dynamics, geo-economics and geostrategic, are at odds with each other. To have progress, stability, investment and growth through CPEC, it is imperative that the geopolitical dynamics in the region declines otherwise region cannot have growth and prosperity. To conclude, he suggested that unit level gains are needed to be translated into regional prosperity without which peace is not possible.
Dr. Attaullah Wahidyar, Senior Policy and Programme Advisor, Ministry of Education, Kabul, Afghanistan, spoke on “Ingress of Non-State Actors in Afghanistan – Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda”, and delivered his six key messages for peace in Afghanistan. According to him, non-state actors are the officially disowned subsidiaries of the state institutions who are designed to perform legitimate or illegitimate tasks that the states believe they are needed to be performed but they don’t want to take the responsibility for them. He further stated that there are obviously internal as well as external factors that create an environment within a state for non-state actors’ activities. The external factors that help to create the non-state actors are the holes created by rivalries and mistrust among states, institutions, societies and individuals. He was of the opinion that non-state actors are the part of the power struggle of big powers with the tactical collaboration from the regional powers and the countries where these actors exist being the victims of the atrocities they commit.
In addition, according to him, each time there is a serious effort to normalize the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, or Pakistan and India, such incidents increase. He argued that this infers two conclusions that may be, there are actors within the states who do not want the normalization of relations or may be, there are outside powers who don’t want Pakistan and Afghanistan to be in good relations. He concluded by saying that such efforts to create mistrust between two states would not succeed.
Maj. Gen. (R) Ijaz Hussain Awan, HI (M), Former High Commissioner of Brunei Darussalam, spoke on “Effective Border Management: A key to Security in the Region”. He argued that Afghanistan is now turning out to be a wound for Washington, where coalition forces have lost thousands of men and spent over $800 billion dollars while Pakistan by becoming an ally in the war on terror has paid a very heavy price in the shape of human and material losses. However, he lamented that US representatives have repeatedly accused Pakistan of duplicity without any credible evidence which undermines the trust that is needed to take the war to a logical end. While explaining the need for border management, he said that all over the world, border management is done in three or four ways. He said that border management of uncontested borders between peaceful states is done politically and diplomatically, but where the borders are contested or one of the sides is unstable and willing to go to war then states resort to military management of the borders. To this end, the Government of Pakistan has approved some changes and some measures, such as; the raising of some additional frontier core wings, border force, and fencing and electrification of Pak- Afghan border is also planned in selected and high priority areas.
Session II: Structural Problems in the Security of Afghanistan: Review of Nontraditional Challenges
Mr. Sayed Mahdi Munadi, Head of Research, Center for Strategic Studies (CSS), Kabul, Afghanistan, spoke on “A Capacity Evaluation of the Afghan Government in terms of Security, Governance and Economic Management.” He talked about many economic initiatives such as Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, CASA-1000, China’s One Belt One Road and CPEC projects and said that transportation links are being developed between Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. He highlighted the benefits of Chabahar port for economic development, regional integration and foreign investment in Afghanistan and said that Afghanistan needs both Chabahar and Gwadar port. He highlighted transit, energy and communication projects, of which Afghanistan is a part. He highlighted various countries’ contributions in providing economic aid and assistance to Afghanistan and said that the initiation and completion of economic projects can ensure security as the completion of Salma dam and Afghanistan-Turkmenistan Railway are an example. He talked about Afghan Unity Government’s capacity in terms of governance and said that Afghan Unity government faces many challenges, but it has strengthened the Security and Defence forces of Afghanistan and has been continuously in the process of reconciling those ethnic groups that were excluded from the political process. He said that fiscal reforms, stringent tax collection mechanism and increased GDP of Afghanistan are the successes of Unity Government. He further added that improved health and education indicators show the people’s oriented policies of Afghan Government. He said that security transition in Afghanistan has been costly but successful as Afghanistan has signed strategic partnership agreement with the United States that has helped in enhancing military capabilities of Afghan Security Forces. He said that Afghanistan would welcome any Asian initiative that would integrate Afghan’s economy into Asian regional economy.
Rahim Ullah Yousafzai, Senior Journalist and Political Analyst, Peshawar, spoke on “Poverty, Unemployment, and Illiteracy: State of Human Security in Afghanistan” and said that President Ashraf Ghani has not been able to fulfil his promises he made during his election campaign. He identified that the Afghan Unity Government has been suffering from internal differences and slow decision making process. He said that discontentment in Afghan masses has been increasing and quoted the result of a survey that showed that 81 percent of Afghans are dissatisfied with the Afghan Government. He recognized a social division in Afghanistan that is constantly on the rise due to increasing unemployment. He said that 68 percent of the Afghan population is under 25 years of age and due to lack of opportunities around 200,000 Afghan people have left for Europe. According to him, Afghan people are the second largest refugee community after Syrians. He identified unemployment as one of the causes of recruitment for the insurgency. He quoted World Bank’s figures that showed the reducing economic growth rate to less than 2 percent. He said that the literacy rate in Afghanistan is 47 percent and out of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, the literacy rate of 7 provinces is less than 1 percent. He highlighted that 100,000 Pakistani people are employed in different fields in Afghanistan. He suggested that all countries should seek peace in Afghanistan and United States must take the lead.
Major General (R) Khawar Hanif, HI (M), former DG, Anti-Narcotics Forces, Pakistan spoke on “Poppy Cultivation, and Drug Trafficking: A Financial Resource of Terrorism” and said that unrest always facilitates organized crimes and terrorism. He said that prior to 9/11, Taliban had brought down the level of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan to 8,000 hectares, while the statistics of 2016 showed the 201,000 hectares land is being used for poppy cultivation. He said that the farm gate value of Afghan opium is $ US 1 billion and total value of poppy is $ US 150 billion, while the money coming back to Afghanistan is $US 10 billion. He also identified financial resources of transnational terrorism and highlighted legitimate sources as charities, religious funding, diaspora donations and endowments. He also talked about illegitimate sources of terrorism, just like drugs and human trafficking, arms smuggling and Hawala system of money transfer. He stated that the world’s illicit economy is about $ 1.599 trillion, while world drug economy is about 428 billion in which the share of Afghan drug income is 10 billion. He said that viewing drug trafficking from the global perspective shows that Afghan drug money has little contribution to finance global terrorism rather it is a source of funding and recruitment for the Taliban.
Session III: Peace Initiatives by Regional Partners and Coalition Countries
Dr. Omar Zakhilwal, President’s Special Envoy and Ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan, in his keynote address called for the need to understand the definition of peace and said that it is difficult to understand the definition of peace in the context of Afghanistan. He stated that after going through a prolonged phase of the conflict Afghan people are desirous of peace. Anyone else’s commitment to peace can be doubted but not that of the people of Afghanistan. He said that unfortunately the international engagement in Afghanistan at the moment is for all the wrong reasons. According to him, in 2001, the coalition came to Afghanistan with a lot more clarity, but over time their focus has diluted but at the same time there was little room for reconciliation as the mind-set was more focused on revenge as the Taliban were the common enemies. He remarked that there is no shortage of misconceptions and conspiracy theories about his country.
Dr. Omar opined that in 2001, there was unity among regional countries, but in 2017, that unity is no longer there and the war is full of mistakes now. He highlighted that the way the war is being fought perhaps creates more difficulties than it resolves and is making terrorism more complex than ever before as Daesh has also entered into the war. He stated that the positive engagement of regional countries is necessary for the regional economic integration.
Dr. Marvin G. Weinbaum, Professor at University of Illinois and Scholar-in-Residence, Middle East Institute, Washington, DC, presented his views on the “US Vision of the End State in Afghanistan: A Critical Evaluation of the Obama Policies and Key Recommendations for President Trump”. He said that without recognizing a vision, it is impossible to talk about peace. He shared his views that while Barack Obama sought to implement a new strategic approach in Afghanistan, which featured a military surge that was expected to clear the way for the disengagement of US forces from the country, his administration was left with pinning its hopes on a strategy designed to buy enough time for the Afghan state to put its act together.
He suggested that like Obama’s administration, all major stakeholders need to do the same and lower their sights for an end-state, and be willing to settle for an Afghanistan whose security, stability and governance is just ‘good enough.’ He said that Pakistan can play an important role in controlling the problems in Afghanistan effectively. He also pointed out that Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban is overestimated and misunderstood; and that the Taliban’s vision of an end-state of Afghanistan is different from that of the US and its allies. He opined that the Taliban seek the recreation of an Emirate in a Sharia state, not a Western-styled democratic constitutional state. Trying to get the Taliban to agree to power sharing has ignored what the Taliban’s core leadership regularly states: that it has no interest in power sharing within the prevailing political system. Regarding President Trump, he was of the view that during his campaign for the presidency Donald Trump seldom mentioned Afghanistan. He said that it is doubtful that the new administration’s vision for Afghanistan or its strategies in the region will deviate very far from those during the Obama years. Summing up, he lamented that development assistance stands to be cut sharply in America’s foreign policy towards this region.
Dr. Grigory Tishchenko, Deputy Director, Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (RISS), Moscow, presented “Russian Perspective on Afghanistan”. He said that Moscow supports the legal Government in Afghanistan. He also noted that since Pakistan is the key country for ensuring its stability, it is important to continue the present Russian-Pakistani interaction. He warned that destabilization of the situation in Afghanistan could seriously complicate functioning of the Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) passing through the region. He pointed out that any aggravation in the region threatens Russia as well. He was of the view that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) can make an essential contribution to normalizing the situation in Kabul through coordination of Russian, Chinese, Pakistani and Indian interests. He said that Russia and especially China are already huge sponsors of the Afghan government, both in the military and economic sphere. Therefore, it is essential to add the situation in Afghanistan to the agenda of the SCO. He warned that the fight against terrorism and religious extremism is complex. He also recommended advance preparations for international cooperation in case ISIL activities go beyond Afghanistan. He concluded his speech by saying that the search of forces interested in peace-making and ready to sit down at the negotiating table, including direct dialogue of the Afghan Government with the Taliban is also necessary as is strengthening of borders, modernization of the armed forces of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, involvement of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Force (KSOR) and the SCO Anti-terrorist centre in the region.
Dr. Seyed Rasoul Mousavi, Advisor to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Vice President, Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), Tehran, reviewed “Iranian Perspective on Afghanistan”. He was of the view that the US as the main security guarantor has no specific strategy for Afghanistan, while the Taliban believe that the US has been defeated militarily and so the number of terrorist attacks and the subsequent civilian casualties are increasing, along with massive opium production. He said that Afghanistan’s ‘trilemma’ lies in three main and key problems: Stability, Security and Development. Unfortunately, none of the governments and political parties in Afghanistan has been able to find a balanced solution to these three crises. According to him, the Bonn Conference was a failure because it focused on removing the Taliban from the Afghan equation and fixated only on the security dimension, ignoring the social and political dimensions which led to the renewed strength in the Taliban. He said that another mistake made by the Bonn process was relying on the military forces of US and NATO, while disregarding the importance and role of regional countries in attaining this goal. He recommended that Afghanistan needs a ‘Power Re-sharing Solution’ in which there is participation of all Afghan major political and social players in the central government and local administration, without excluding anyone. He also suggested looking at the present-day Taliban with a new lens as ‘Neo-Taliban’ rather than the one worn during the previous years.
Session IV: Achieving Peace in Afghanistan: A Way Forward
Mr. Owais Ahmed Ghani, Senior Research Fellow and Member, Board of Directors, Global Think Tank Network (GTTN), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan and Former Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan said that every state has been pursuing its own interest in Afghanistan that is conflicting with each other. He stressed that to bring peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s cooperation with the international community is necessary. He put forward some proposals for peace in Afghanistan. First, the results of military operation in Afghanistan aren’t according to official wishes of Pakistan and the spillover effect of the conflict being same in Pakistan as the continued presence of millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is creating problems. Second, the power sharing arrangement in Kabul has been in flux since the first day. Third, Pakistan has legitimate concerns about peace and stability in Afghanistan as half of the Afghan population is in Pakistan. Fourth, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been hostile due to the superpower rivalries in the past. Fifth, the US cannot resolve the Afghanistan problem because it intends to stay in Afghanistan due to its geopolitical interests. Sixth, the Indian political leadership has openly talked about US-India nexus in Afghanistan that is a cause of concern for Pakistan.
Nevertheless, he said that numerous commonalities exist between Afghanistan and Pakistan that can help in building peace, e.g. the common trading system and the main drivers behind this common trade system are the Afghan refugees. A common currency between Afghanistan and Pakistan could also be used. Furthermore, he argued that as 1.5 billion people understand Urdu language, the introduction of a common language is also needed. He concluded that Pakistan has been the worst affected from Afghanistan conundrum and it could be the beneficiary of the peace process; therefore, peace building is the need of the hour.
Mr. Muhammad Sadiq, National Security Secretary and Former Ambassador to Afghanistan said that Afghanistan is changing because a new Afghanistan is in the making having new realities, cultures and sub nationalities today, that were not there 50 years ago. He also identified border management as a core problem between Pakistan and Afghanistan that makes peace building the most difficult task. Furthermore, with increasing unemployment, lawlessness increases, making peace building difficult again.
According to him, most of the Afghan warlords are still alive and they think that they can get away with any crime and nobody can make them accountable for their actions. Moreover, he said that Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey want peace in Afghanistan but practically are not doing enough. In this regard, therefore, the Afghanistan’s neighbours and other regional countries need to agree on common grounds for reconciliation and subsequent peace in Afghanistan.
Dr. Liu Zongyi, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), China, while presenting his views on “Building Consensus among Major Stakeholder Countries”, said that Pakistan’s position on Afghanistan and the insight it can offer about peace in the country should be respected. He emphasized that China considers the Afghan people as the major stakeholders of the Afghan issue. He was of the view that regional connectivity can help Afghanistan and lay the foundation for future regional engagement. He recommended that diverse regional connectivity efforts of individual stakeholders in Afghanistan must be synergized, and the US should support Russian efforts for establishing peace in Afghanistan. He pointed out that many great empires declined after they reached this land and hence, every stakeholder needs to keep this history in mind when developing any policy for the people of this region. He noted that there are many contradictions between the policies of various stakeholders with respect to the future of the country. He concluded his speech by saying that there should be an international consensus on an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process that accepts the Taliban as a legitimate stakeholder as Western democracy cannot be transplanted in Afghanistan.
Mr. Michael Semple, Visiting Research Professor, Queen’s University Belfast, UK talked about “Reconciliation and Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in Afghanistan.” He said that the Taliban see themselves different from the Kabul elites and wish to run an Islamic Emirate. He was of the view that the most important step should be to ask the Taliban to forego violence since there is a moral authority behind negotiating an agreement on that premise. He warned that while the Taliban are now more fractured, their various wings have become more autonomous than ever before. While the Taliban have found their transition from their last Emir to be quite a challenge, the idea of the Taliban Islamic Emirate is still potent’. According to him, there is a paucity of decision making in Afghanistan due to trust deficit on all fronts which leads to failure of the reconciliation process. He suggested more focus on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) among all stakeholders to bridge the trust deficit among all warring parties of Afghanistan.
Ms. Tehmina Janjua, Foreign Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in her concluding address said that Pakistan has a policy of maintaining friendly ties with its neighbours. She highlighted that Pakistan desires a meaningful and constructive engagement with Afghanistan as both states share history, culture, ethnicity and religion. She said that Pakistan gives priority to enhance people to people contacts between the two countries. She highlighted that 48,000 Afghan nationals have got educated in Pakistan. She said that the Government of Pakistan has given training to Afghan medical doctors and paramedic staff. She said that Pakistan has granted 3,000 scholarships for Afghan students and has been planning to provide more scholarships for Afghan youth. She also talked about Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) and said that Pakistan has been providing transit facilities to Afghanistan. She highlighted that the emerging realities of Afghanistan in the form of Daesh and other violent actors presents alarming challenges for Pakistan. She said that TTP and Jamat-UL Ahrar’s attacks in Pakistan and their sanctuaries in Afghanistan require strong counterterrorism cooperation between the two states. She stated that an efficient border management mechanism should also be in place. She said that Pakistan desires that Afghan refugees should return to their homes with dignity and honour. She said that the international community should assist in the reintegration of Afghan refugees. She stated that Pakistan believes that there is no military solution of the Afghan conflict, but a political resolution is needed. She highlighted that Pakistan participated in QCG, and Murree Talks but these processes were undermined. She proposed that a regional approach to resolve Afghan conflict and peace and stability in Afghanistan is an important foreign policy objective of Pakistan.
At the end, Acting President IPRI, Brig. (R) Sohail Tirmizi thanked the participants for their valuable contributions and said that the conference has highlighted the internal as well as external dynamics that impact political spectrum of Afghanistan. He concluded that an intra-Afghan reconciliation process will spur a political and democratic environment between all stakeholders to the conflict eventually leading to enduring peace and stability in Afghanistan.
- The instability in Afghanistan is being exploited by various powers for their vested interests. The approaches and strategies adopted to settle the Afghan issue are mainly based on military solutions. To bring an end to Afghan quagmire, there is a need to have strategic clarity on the issue.
- Although the Afghan peace process should be Afghan led and Afghan owned but at the same time, building peace in Afghanistan is a shared responsibility of all the regional and global players. They must facilitate a reconciliation process to find a politically negotiated settlement. For this purpose, the concerned stakeholders, including the Afghan Government, the Taliban and regional/global players need to sit together on the negotiating table. Such negotiations could be sustained by focusing on mutual cooperation between the Afghan Government, the Taliban and regional countries to fight the Daesh. Major powers should also contribute in the fight against Daesh in Afghanistan, as Daesh is also a threat to the regional and world peace.
- The geopolitical and the geoeconomic dynamics offer both opportunities and challenges to the region. Geo-economic factor can become the major motivation for peace in the region. Regional players need to transform their geopolitical competition to geo-economic cooperation. This will help to optimize connectivity of the CPEC in the region and beyond.
- The South Asian countries should play down their political differences to benefit from the emerging economic opportunities. The Chinese led OBOR initiative has set the pace of regional connectivity. There is a need to have greater trust among the regional players, in particular Afghanistan-Pakistan and India.
- Today the rising transnational activities of the non-state actors are posing serious threat to the economice development and security of regional countries. In order to weaken these non-state actors, the regional countries will have to give up their obstinate positions. The lack of cooperation, mistrust and rivalries among the regional countries provide a conducive environment to the extremist groups to exploit such an environment to their advantage. The way forward is to resolve all outstanding issues between different stakeholders through a sustained and meaningful dialogue.
- Security along the porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border needs to be beefed through political and military cooperation of both the countries so as to curtail illegal cross border movement. Apart from using military personnel to monitor illegal cross border movement, technical surveillance should also be used.
- Raising FC wings, fencing and electrification, technical surveillance, surveillance by drones and aircraft etc., are some measures, which have been unilaterally undertaken by Pakistan. Nevertheless, Afghanistan also needs to cooperate to control border infiltration. In this regard, the US role as a facilitator in Pakistan-Afghanistan border management will be useful.
- To allay the misperceptions and negativity surrounding the Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral ties, the political leadership on both sides needs to take initiatives for a meaningful engagement. In this context, visits of high level political, diplomatic, intelligence and military exchanges between both countries should be institutionalized. People to people contacts also need to be promoted.
- The Afghan refugees in Pakistan hold property, which is illegal and while going back to Afghanistan it is not possible for them to dispose it off. The Government of Pakistan should look into the matter and provide alternate options to the Afghan refugees. This will create a good will for Pakistan among the Afghan people.
- Western style of democracy is not a solution to bring peace in Afghanistan. Therefore, Afghanistan needs a consensus based system of governance as per their culture.
- People to people contacts between Afghanistan and Pakistan can reduce the trust deficit. In this regard, more student exchange programmes, joint academic programmes of universities, etc. can improve the existing situation and build trust.
- Curtailment of opium production in Afghanistan is required as drug trafficking provides funding for the terrorist organizations. A strict control on the movement of opium is also needed. In this regard, timely and transparent intelligence sharing at regional level is necessary.
- To control drug movement, an effective international and regional coordination mechanism and operations, including enhanced Container Freight Stations (CFS), Inland Container Depots (ICD), and capacity enhancement of transit countries is required. There is also a need to delink counter narcotic efforts from the geopolitical and geoeconomic competition between countries.
- To stabilize Afghanistan, all regional countries and the international community must make efforts to achieve peace through a holistic approach. Peace in Afghanistan is beneficial for all the regional states – Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Central Asian states and India and they need the regional players to make a collective commitment to work for peace in Afghanistan.
- The prolonged War on terrorism and the ingress of Daesh in Afghanistan have changed the region’s perception of the Taliban. Most of the regional countries such as Russia, China, Iran and Central Asian States, which were earlier against the Taliban, today support talks with them to counter the bigger threat of The Afghan people have seen the war for decades. This war like situation has psychologically impaired the Afghans. To attain peace and defeat militancy once and for all, the Afghan Government and the other stakeholders need to convince the US and India to support a political settlement of the Afghan conflict through a process of reconciliation with the Taliban.
- A mutually supporting politico-military strategy should be preferred. The Afghan traditional Jirga system should also be given due consideration. Earlier the international community had neglected the demands of the Afghan Taliban, which should now be examined as only such a strategy is expected to lead to the national political reconciliation in Afghanistan.
- The geopolitical competition coupled with ideological contradictions have negatively impacted the Afghan peace process. All the stakeholders need to give up their regional rivalries and contradictory approaches, and look at the resolution of the Afghan imbroglio from a wider spectrum, i.e. focusing on regional integration in the context of the OBOR, the CPEC, CASA 1000 and TAPI projects.
- The US has been an influential political actor in Afghan affairs. The lack of participation by the US in the recently concluded Moscow talks on Afghanistan has sent a negative signal to the concerned parties. Russia’s regional initiative is a positive step towards political settlement of the Afghanistan conflict. The US participation in the next session is extremely important for the success of the initiative.
- Since, Pakistan and Afghanistan need to adopt close cooperation for national political reconciliation in Afghanistan, both countries should work on commonality of interests. In this context, preferential trade agreement is required between the two countries to increase trade volume. Moreover, liberal visa policy should be introduced between the two countries with the clause of sizable volume of investment. It will improve the stakes of business communities of two states. In this respect common customs facilitation is required between the two countries to reduce the volume of smuggling.
- All warring parties of Afghanistan are facing the issue of trust deficit, which leads to failure of the reconciliation process. Therefore, it is recommended that Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) among all stakeholders of Afghanistan should be initiated and implemented. In this respect, the release of prisoners and ceasefire in conflict areas would be helpful in bringing the warring factions to talk to each other.
The speakers of the conference were of the opinion that interconnected and economically integrated South Asia is not possible without a peaceful Afghanistan. Bringing peace to Afghanistan is the responsibility of the Afghan Government, but cooperation from regional countries and the international community is of immense importance. There is a need to build an international consensus about seeking a political resolution of the Afghan conflict because the unresolved Afghan issue would be a matter of concern not only for neighbouring regional countries, but also for the international community, mainly due to the ingress of Daesh in Afghanistan, which is a threat to regional and international peace. It was agreed that the resolution of the Afghan conflict lies within Afghanistan while the outside states have the responsibility to facilitate the reconciliation process.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.