Fortress Report / By Arif Qureshi
Islamabad: The Royal Danish Defense College(RDDC) in collaboration with Regional Peace Institute(RPI) of Pakistan organized a two-day seminar on ‘Bilateral Reconciliation: Opportunities and Challenges’ at a local hotel in Islamabad on 12,13 September as a part of the Danish Peace and Stabilization Programme to Pakistan. The Seminar aimed at providing a platform to the international experts and practitioners from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Denmark to share experiences and perspectives on a variety of issues of critical importance to the region.
In his introductory speech, Col. Kim Schmidt, Defence Attache at the Royal Danish Embassy in Islamabad said “the challenge of Afghanistan and Pakistan are interlinked; trouble in one country does not stop at the borderline. Rather, many issues of both countries are bilateral in nature and therefore require bilateral efforts to be dealt with, which in short are the main reason why this dialogue has been organized and why Denmark has chosen to engage in such a project”.
The seminar was divided into four working sessions; first session was on U.S. and European engagement in Afghanistan and Dr. Christopher Kolenda from Strategic Leadership Academy, U.S. presented his valuable assessment regarding the afghan conflict. Dr. Liselotte Odgaard from RDDC presented her recommendations on the evolving role of China and its possible economic and security impact on improving relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The key feature of the dialogue was the address of the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Omar Zakhilwal who categorically distanced his country from Indian efforts to diplomatically ‘isolate’ Pakistan and asserted that Afghan government should take action against Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s sanctuaries operating against Islamabad from inside Afghanistan, adding that Islamabad also needed to reciprocate the same by ensuring that its soil is not used by elements like Haqqani network and others against Kabul.
The Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Omar Zakhilwal said that peace in both countries is linked to each other and it is difficult to have peace in Pakistan without peace in Afghanistan. “Pakistan should not object to our ties with India. We assure that Afghanistan-India relationship will not inflict harm upon Pakistan”, Afghan envoy added.
Afghanistan was represented at the dialogue by an illustrious delegation comprising Sayed Hamed Gailani, National Islamic Front of Afghanistan (NIFA), Mirwais Yasini, Dr. Farouq Azam, Chairman, Movement for Peaceful Transformation of Afghanistan, Dr. Anwarulhaq Ahady, President, The New National Front of Afghanistan, Dr. Ghairat Baheer, Chairman, Political Committee, Hizb e Islami, Afghanistan, Sayed Ishaq Gailani, Mr. Nasir Ahmad Haidarzai, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Mr. Mozammil Shinwari, Former Deputy Minister of Commerce and Industries, Shahmahmood Miakhel, Country Director, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, Chairman, National Stability Society (NSS) and Halimullah Kousary, Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies (CAPS).
Pakistan was represented by Raoof Hasan, Chief Executive of Regional Peace Institute, Senator Afrasiab Khattak, Ambassador Riaz Mohammad Khan, Ambassador Ayaz Wazir, Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq, Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Ambassador Fauzia Nasreen, Ambassador Saeed Khalid, Lt. Gen. (R) Ghulam Mustafa, Tariq Khosa, Dr. Faisal Bari, Brig. (R) Asad Munir, Murtaza Solangi, Dr. Vaqar Ahmad and Javed Hasan Aly.
In his executive summary David Vestenskov who is a consultant at the Royal Danish Defense College wrote that no silver bullet solution to the regional conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan will surface in the immediate future through a top-down approach. The ‘Afghanistan-Pakistan Dialogue’ has been developed as a joint project between the Royal Danish Defence College and the Regional Peace Institute. The project emphasizes on identifying measures to affect the political establishment from beneath. The second round of the dialogue involved elegates from both countries and influential individuals who can affect policy development from within each country.
In this policy brief, the Royal Danish Defence College provides specific policy recommendations for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the international community based on the dialogue.
US and European engagement in Afghanistan
- The US will and cannot solve the confl ict in Afghanistan, which was described as a strategic bankruptcy within the US National Security community by one of the international speakers. This opens up for regional grown solutions.
- The massive pressure on Pakistan, which has taken place the last 10 years and also poses as a key element in the future US strategy, has been counterproductive and will continue to be so if continued.
- Short-term intensification of the conflict in Afghanistan is likely but the new strategy contains long-term possibilities for stabilization, as stalemate will continue in a new balance after the initial period of conflict.
The Role of China as Enabler of Stability
- China will likely remain the only greater player in the region especially regarding investments, but for its own purposes. US strategic capability in this region is not permanent or limitless.
- Whether the CPEC-project will be beneficial to Pakistan in the long run is contested. However, CPEC is currently the only option for Pakistan to attract large-scale foreign direct investment.
Peace Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban
- Military means cannot solve this conflict alone and negotiations must take place. One cannot expect results in the short term. Negotiations will be a bumpy ride and patience is needed.
- The peace talks must be Afghan led and owned, but will initially require mediation and facilitation from the international community.
- There was consensus that Pakistan does not have the same ability as previously to force or bring Taliban to the negotiating table. Education and Economic Growth as Peace Enablers
- Pakistan and Afghanistan face tough issues regarding education, both in terms of quality, quantity and equity. Reform of education (curriculum) is necessary – but especially also reform of teacher’s education.
- Establishment of a joint border management mechanism is necessary; attempts to block cross-border trade will cultivate an already existing illegal economy fuelling the conflict.
The findings from the second round of the ‘Afghanistan Pakistan Dialogue’ presented above have significant implications for regional efforts to resolve the conflict and for the international community’s support. Actor-specific policy recommendations are outlined below.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Start with peace where it is possible and let it spread to the rest of Afghanistan from there.
- Encourage a phase of negotiations with the Taliban. A starting point could be the opening of a Taliban office in Kabul.
- Support an inclusive project on education reform in both countries, which contains a role for madrasas/religious seminaries in the process.
- Cultivate and support cross-border trade to bring revenue to both countries and enable peaceful relations.
- Take cross-border travelling tribes into consideration in border management. A border identity card could be a solution for frequent travellers.
The international community
- Focus stabilization efforts in Afghanistan on encouraging regionally developed solutions. Europe should pursue a more separate role from the United States.
- Approach Pakistan as a supporting partner for peace in Afghanistan instead of a leader of such a process.
- Encourage Pakistan to develop a coherent Afghanistan policy and publicly declare support for the Kabul government.
- Identify and support other regional large-scale economic projects to provide the regional states with more options for growth
The writer is editor online news magazine The Fortress, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org