Pak-Afghan cooperation policy

Published: February 20, 2017
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The writer is an international social enterprise lawyer and policy consultant

For now, there is an uneasy silence in the Pak-Afghan business community circles that would otherwise exchange ideas about regional trade cooperation and progress. There really can be no ‘business as usual’ or trade cooperation or objective discussions on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, unless both sides are open to sincere discussion and dialogue on all ancillary matters, including cross-border terrorism. The Pak-Afghan history is a complex mix of border disputes over the Durand Line, refugee influx in Pakistan and decades of informal trade at the porous 2,430km border. Afghanistan depends on foreign aid to boost its young generation that is trying to emerge from a war torn economy and counter the influence of informal trade through the cultivation and sale of drugs that account for more than 50% of illegal trade in Afghanistan which incidentally also directly funds terrorist networks in the tribal belt.

Pakistan needs a working relationship with Afghanistan to ensure that a number of common issues, with terrorism topping the list, can be effectively addressed. However, will cracking down on ‘terrorists’ overnight after deadly attacks in Pakistan really be able to avert a regrouping of terrorists both inside and across the border of Pakistan to flourish? Or does another parallel methodology need to be adopted?

It is a tricky question to ask whether the state is ‘doing enough’ because the state seems to be in a quagmire. The National Action Plan and Zarb-e-Azb will not be enough because there is a robust support network available for terrorist outfits in Pakistan. No foreign spy agencies can flourish with their agendas unless we provide them with the playing ground on our own land. Disunity, poverty, extremism, a clash of ideologies and disillusionment with the state are factors that help provide the deadly support network needed for that lone suicide bomber to calmly walk through a crowed shrine in Sehwan or a busy road such as Charing Cross right under the Safe City cameras, to get away with their agenda of killing almost 100 people combined. This support network must be broken to nip the evil in the bud. The state needs decades of good policies to counter the aftermath of 40 odd years of bad policies of the past. The reality is that the world is stuck in a vicious cycle of terrorism through which we will not be pulled out in a few days, months or even years. The same Daesh that claimed responsibility for the recent attacks in Pakistan also recently killed more than 50 people in Iraq. There are therefore no simple one-sided solutions.

It would be pragmatic for the state to conduct its due diligence to identify all avenues of support that it can generate to unify the people of Pakistan in this fight against terrorism.

We need to move away from the ‘Pakistani big brother’ rhetoric in the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship, to speak as equals, if we expect the Afghans to take the Pakistani Government’s formal requests of regional intelligence cooperation seriously. But in turn, Afghanistan must also realise the importance of its relations with Pakistan, a neighbour that has been there to support it in the past, rather than demonstrate an obvious shift towards India.

The army’s job is to protect the land and the civil society’s to keep hope alive for humanity. The new Pakistan needs to move away from the image of the ‘resilient nation’ in the region to the ‘progressive nation’ and to that end, every small input or effort whether coming from bilateral trade, joint innovative social enterprise ventures, joint regional media campaigns to inform ordinary people about the complexities of the ground realities or the role of civil society to combat extremism, must be welcomed, rather than sidelined or silenced, as the much-needed parallel diplomacy for regional cooperation to pave the way for sustained regional peace and prosperity.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2017.

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