The Lahore Center for Peace Research (LCPR) and Burki Institute of Public Policy (BIPP) organized a roundtable session on Afghanistan on Friday, the 30th of March. The event was co-chaired by Mr. Shahid Javed Burki, Chairman BIPP and Ambassador Shamshad Ahmad Khan Former Foreign Secretary and Chairman LCPR. Dr. Iftekhar Ahmad Chowdhury, Former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh and currently Principal Research Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore.
The participants discussed the fallout of US’ military-heavy strategy in Afghanistan, the role of Pakistan and the overall geopolitical dynamics in the region. They contended:
- Pakistan has direct stakes in Afghan peace. The continuation of the conflict is not in Pakistan’s interest.
- We have always been ready to play our role in promoting genuine Afghan peace. We would like to see a stable, independent and united Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and with all its neighbours.
- In July 2015, we were able to host the first round of talks between the Afghan Government and Taliban in Murree. There were forces however in the region which subverted the dialogue process.
- President Trump has recently been giving conflicting signals. His spokesmen have been talking of negotiated settlement as well as a military option in the same breath.
- Pakistan welcomed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s initiative of 28 February offering talks with Taliban and starting a new chapter in relations with Pakistan.
- In reality, however, everyone knows that it is Washington, not Taliban, which holds the key for any opening in the Afghan logjam.
On its part, Pakistan is committed to a stable and peaceful Afghanistan and would continue to play its role to achieve this objective. Durable peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive as long as Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns in the region remain unaddressed.
There is an urgent need for Muslim countries to commit themselves to scientific and technological advancement. They must also take control of their own resources.
Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as major Muslim countries, must rise above divisive tendencies and forge a collective will to confront common challenges to the Muslim world including the threat of obscurantism and violence.
They should enter into a regional framework of cooperation in the fields of education, science & technology, economy and counter-terrorism.
The prospects of turning the Islamic Military Coalition to Counter Terrorism (IMCTC) into an organization akin to a “Muslim NATO” that will combat terrorism, militancy and sectarianism should be seriously considered.
Representing one-fifth of humanity as well as of the global land-mass spreading over 57 countries, possessing 70 percent of world’s energy resources and nearly 50 percent of world’s natural resources, the Muslim world should have been a global giant, economically as well as politically. Rich in everything but weak in all respects, it represents only 5 percent of the world’s GDP and is totally a non-consequential entity with no role in global decision-making, or even in addressing its own problems.
Though some of the Muslim nations are sitting on world’s largest oil and gas reserves, the majority of Muslim countries are among the poorest and most backward in the world. Peace is the essence of Islam but, ironically the Muslim nations have seen very little of it, especially after the Second World War. Recent decades have seen tragedies being enacted on Muslim lands, especially in the Middle East and Persian Gulf where conflict and violence remain pervasive. Millions have been killed in these conflicts. They are the victims of wars that have been imposed on them.
However, they alone are responsible for their institutional bankruptcy, political and intellectual aridity, chronic deficiency in knowledge, education and science and technology as well as their aversion to modernity and modernization. To make things worse, there is no urge anywhere in the Muslim world to come out of its ostrich-like medieval mode.
It is time the Muslim world changed how it is perceived around the world to being viewed as a peace-loving, tolerant people capable of living in harmony as an integral part of humanity.
If history is any lesson, things never remain static. They keep changing as the world and its dynamics do by the inevitable process of change that is always inherent in the rise and fall of power. This was the crux of discussion at a diplomatic roundtable organised by the Lahore Canter for Peace Research (LCPR) on February 14, 2018 to explore how the Muslim world could recover its lost strength and glory to be able to play a global role commensurate with its size and economic strength.
The panelists consisting of Pakistan’s senior diplomats deliberated on the overall regional and global economic, security and political environment, and agreed things will not change unless the Muslim world puts its own house in order and takes control of its resources to build its common destiny commensurate with its size and economic strength. There was consensus among them that despite challenges, four influential countries, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have the potential to play an effective role in reshaping the destiny of the Muslim world.
This requires them to rise above their vested interests and divisive tendencies to be able to forge a fresh collective impulse that leads the Muslim world into a new era of unity and civilizational advancement, and to make it a strong, cohesive global entity in political, economic and security matters. They need to develop some kind of a cooperative mechanism between them, so as to mitigate rivalries, violence and instability in their region. They might also consider turning the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMFT) into an organization akin to a “Muslim NATO ” that will combat terrorism, militancy and sectarianism.
There is also an urgent need for Muslim countries to commit themselves to scientific and technological advancement. They must provide adequate resources to educate their peoples according to international standards. While Muslim countries may have serious differences over various issues, Muslim leaders must have the foresight to set aside these disagreements, at least when it comes to developing the Muslim World as a whole through investments in education and scientific research.
The focus on taking advantages of enabling factors like globalization and connectivity initiatives in the region was highlighted. Also, common threats such as climate change and extremism can be countered through cooperative efforts. It was emphasized that in order to expand its clout, Pakistan must focus on increasing its internal strength and improving its economic profile by using its resource base, physical capacity and developing institutions.
Pakistan’s Top Diplomats discuss Pakistan’s challenges and propose a roadmap:
* Peace and constructive engagement is the only option.
* Avoid conflict; stick to stand and principles.
* Washington’s coercive and sometime accusatory and slanderous approach towards Pakistan and its armed forces and security agencies is counterproductive.
* Afghanistan is in a mess not because of Pakistan. It is so because of many other well-known reasons. If anything, Pakistan has direct stakes in Afghan peace/
* To secure a stable Afghanistan, sharp focus needed on its economic and social development.
* Any perceptional problems with Washings should be sorted through existing dialogue channels, not through media or public diplomacy.
China and Pakistan, both sharing border with Afghanistan represent a natural partnership from within the region that can bring about the real change in this volatile region.
Participants at the Second Diplomatic Roundtable organised by the Lahore Center for Peace Research (LCPR) included Pakistan’s Former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri and several senior Pakistani diplomats including Amb. Shahryar Khan, Mr. Iqbal Riza a former UN Under Secretary-General, Amb. Shamshad Ahmad Khan, Amb. Azmat Hassan, Amb. Javid Husain, Amb. Shaukat Umar, Amb. Shahid Malik, Amb. Rifat Iqbal as well as Mr. Shahid Najam, Vice Chairman Burki Institute and Dr. Sophia Imran, Executive Director LCPR.
The events of 9/11 represented a critical threshold in Pakistan’s foreign policy. It was the beginning of another painful chapter in our history. In the blinking of an eye, we became a pivotal player in another US-led long war in our region. And Afghans are not the only victims of the Afghan tragedy. Pakistan has suffered more in multiple ways in terms of refugee influx, rampant terrorism and protracted conflict in its tribal areas.
This is a reality that even President Obama’s Secretary of State Hilary Clinton acknowledged in a Congressional testimony as Obama’s secretary of state. The Afghan crisis with all its ramifications still plagues Pakistan. Our problems are further aggravated by the complex regional configuration with growing Indo-US nexus that gives India a strategic ascendancy in the region and an unprecedented influence in Afghanistan with serious nuisance potential against Pakistan’s security interests.
Our friends and allies must recognize that Afghanistan is an area of fundamental importance to Pakistan. Afghanistan is in a mess not because of Pakistan. It is so because of many other well-known reasons. Pakistan on its part has always been ready to play its role in promoting genuine Afghan peace. It is in Pakistan’s vital interest to have peace and stability in an independent and sovereign Afghanistan that is free of all foreign influences. The Afghans must also reset their functional mode.
The US in recent years has been targeting Pakistan with military incursions and drone attacks in our tribal areas. It is using Pakistan as a convenient scapegoat for its own setbacks in Afghanistan. This has had an alarmingly adverse impact on Pakistan’s psyche which is already perturbed by America’s indifference to its legitimate security concerns and sensitivities. Coercive and sometime accusatory and slanderous approach towards Pakistan and its armed forces and security agencies is counterproductive.
Any perceptional problems must be sorted out through existing mutual dialogue channels, not through media or public diplomacy. There is no alternative to diplomatic engagement. Because of their respective geopolitical interests, both the US and Pakistan need each other. Both must make a genuine effort to re-fix their troubled relationship and to remove each other’s concerns. Diplomacy from both sides should be aimed not only at averting conflictual situations but also to reinforce mutualities in their relationship by infusing in it greater political, economic and strategic content.
It is indeed time to remake this relationship. The objective must be not to weaken this important equation but to strengthen it by infusing in it greater political, economic and strategic content. It must no longer remain a “transactional” relationship and must go beyond the “war on terror”.
In the context of Afghanistan, it is also important that the regional countries do not use the territory of Afghanistan for destabilizing activities in third countries. Regional rivalries can easily stoke the fires of conflict within Afghanistan as well as in the region. It is necessary to control and contain these regional rivalries. To secure a stable Afghanistan, there is a need for sharp focus on Afghanistan’s economic and social development, including trans-regional development.
China and Pakistan, both sharing border with Afghanistan represent a natural partnership from within the region that can bring about the real change in this volatile region. Both can join together in converting Pak-Afghanistan border into an economic gateway for the region, and as a CPEC linkage of peace and cooperation with Central Asian countries. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) promises vast opportunities of peace and trade partnerships not only in this region including India but also beyond to Iran, Turkey and Europe.
In the fast-changing environment, for Pakistan, there is a need to revive and reinforce its historic multiple linkages with Iran to be able to forge a new regional approach in dealing with common challenges. Both have a shared role to play in building complementarities for peace and security in the region. Speaking of peace, there can also be no two opinions on the need for durable peace between India and Pakistan – the only two nuclear-armed neighbours with a legacy of outstanding disputes and a history of conflictual standoffs.
The people in both countries have suffered for too long as a result of continuing tensions and conflicts and would welcome any new innovative approach towards peaceful solution of their problems including the Kashmir issue.
On its part, Pakistan also needs to put its own house in order. A country remains vulnerable externally as long as it is weak domestically. To be treated with respect and dignity by others, Pakistan has to be stable politically and strong economically so that it can be self-reliant and immune to external constraints and exploitation. For us at this critical juncture in our history, what is important is not what we are required to do for others’ interests; it is what we ought to be doing in our own national interest.
Pakistan’s biggest challenge now is to convert its pivotal location into an asset rather than letting it remain a liability. As a country and as a nation, at this critical juncture in our history we cannot leave ourselves to the vagaries of time or at the mercy of others. We must fix the fundamentals of our state and governance.