By Taj Nabi Khan

ISLAMABAD, Oct 3 (APP):Afghanistan which was once known for its stunning landscapes and fresh and juicy fruits the world over, now is a war ravaged country where peace seems an elusive and distant dream.
Over the last forty years, the people of Afghanistan have seen nothing but a long chain of wars, conflicts, disputes, and crises after crises, the prolonged conflict and instability at home has forced a large number of people to migrate to the neighbouring countries, mainly to Pakistan and Iran. Thus a generation of Afghan people has grown up in these refugee camps while seeking livelihood for their kith and kin.
 
Geographically, Afghanistan is a landlocked mountainous country located in South-Central Asia bordering with Pakistan in the south and east;  Iran in the west;  Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and in the far northeast, China.
 
The country has also plains in the north and southwest and has an area of 652,000 square kilometers with a population of 38 million people, mostly composed of ethnic communities of Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks.

 The longstanding Afghan conflict is complex as it is riven with deep schisms of a political, ethnic, sectarian and ideological character. The conflict has run its course depending on two trajectories: reduction in violence and some form of intra-Afghan dialogue for a political settlement.

However, reduction of violence will depend on a formal or informal ceasefire which is inextricably linked to the question of a timeline for withdrawal and the compulsions of the current US President. For restoring peace to the Afghan-conflict, Pakistan has always looked forward for Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process as unstable Afghanistan is not only a security threat to the neighbouring countries but to the entire region and world at large.

The stability of both Pakistan and Afghanistan goes hand-in-hand, and the way forward is through mutual understanding and good working relations. Likewise, the concept of improved regional connectivity, prospects of Belt and Road initiative, especially China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), will only materialize if there is an end to the political turmoil and war in Afghanistan. 

The interests of both nations overlap, peace in Afghanistan, guarantees prosperity in Pakistan, and vice versa. Speaking at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) on “Pakistan-Afghanistan: Way Forward for Bilateral Relations” Ambassador (R) Riaz Muhammad Khan said, it would be better and safer for Pakistan to interact with Afghanistan on the basis of established state-to-state norms because this was a relationship from which we cannot insulate ourselves nor simply push aside.”

He said that there were few examples in the world where 50,000 people cross a border, unrecognized by one side, on a daily basis without any papers. That, in itself, and the people-to-people interactions make Pak-Afghan relations very close and intimate, he added. President IPRI, Ambassador Vice Admiral (R) Khan Hasham bin Saddique said that the situation in Afghanistan had become a sordid affair, evolving from infamous strategic depth to the current strategic mess.

He said, “Despite hosting more than two million Afghan refugees for decades, the animosity that stems from Afghanistan is palpable. Peace in South Asia can only be realized through peace in Afghanistan. To meet such ends, Pakistan has been making strides to play its role in achieving peace in the neighbourhood.”

Ambassador Riaz M. Khan while sharing his insights on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to signing of the Geneva Accord said that Soviet withdrawal did not prevent continuation of the conflict; the same is feared if the Americans leave Kabul precipitously.

He said, “The current peace deal is tenuous to begin with since it was pushed by President Trump due to his re-election bid and past campaign promises. It had limited support from defence and diplomatic heavyweights in Washington because negotiations without a ceasefire or reduction in conflict gave Taliban the upper hand.”

He said that withdrawal without a plan of action to ensure that there is and will no civil war and the gains on the ground are not lost is unwise. Pakistan should also have a policy of having no favorites in terms of future Afghan governance even to contain the mischief of India who will have to go through Kabul and Washington, not the Taliban.

On India’s presence in Kabul, Ambassador Riaz said that India has its own nefarious agenda for the region which has nothing to do with establishing lasting peace. He said that the future of Afghan peace now largely depends on US policy under President Trump and the Afghan elections. Both are likely to determine the nature of Pak-Afghan relations as well, he added. Ambassador Khan said that Pakistan’s four decades of involvement with the Afghan conflict has led to monumental losses.

He said, “We missed out on opportunities offered by globalization, ascendance of geo-economics and the opening up of Central Asia. Our aspirations for becoming a hub of economic activities for surrounding regions remained just a dream. Instead, we have been thrown into the vortex of extremist and religious violence and obscurantism ravaging the region especially the greater Middle East.”