Sultan M Hali
DESPITE the fact that Afghanistan continues to blame Pakistan for all its woes, Pakistan has taken concrete efforts to help restore peace and bring about the rehabilitation of Afghans. Pakistan is a stakeholder in Afghan peace because its own development projects depend on peace in Afghanistan. In the near past, Pakistan has taken numerous initiatives to raise the standard of educational institutions in Afghanistan. Pakistan had launched $500 million worth of projects for Afghanistan’s education, health and infrastructure sectors. Pakistan government confirms that 3,000 scholarships had been offered to Afghan students in different universities of Pakistan and 100 Afghan students would study in the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).
Since the Afghan refugees entered Pakistan after the invasion of their country by Soviet Union, Pakistan had extended a warm welcome to over five million Afghan refugees. These Afghans have been availing of education in various institutions of Pakistan, which range from primary and secondary schools to colleges, universities and specialized vocational training institutes. Afghan students have received education at Pakistan’s medical, engineering and social sciences universities. They have been offered scholarships as well as free education. Moreover 50,000 Afghan refugee children have been getting education every year since 1990s in Pakistani schools. Pakistan has been sponsoring multiple educational and technical projects apart from other infrastructure and development schemes.
Education is not the only field, in which Pakistan has extended support to its Afghan brothers and sisters. Medical facilities in Pakistan have been open to the Afghans. Thousands of Afghans cross into Pakistan territory every day to get free or subsidized medical treatment. Besides education and health, Pakistan has been extending support in the reconstruction of Afghanistan through support in social sectors. Pakistan has been helping Afghanistan to build roads, bridges establishing transport systems. War ravaged Afghanistan was helped to stand on its own feet in the communication sector by Pakistani engineers and technicians by helping rebuild its TV, Radio, Satellite and other broadcasting facilities.
Many Afghans chose to return to their country of origin as soon as conditions improved. A number of them moved on to Europe or the USA. Islamabad had desired to forge friendly relations with all its neighbours, including Afghanistan. The recent overtures by Pakistan to help establish peace in Afghanistan have been welcomed by the Afghan government but there are certain vested interests, which would not like to see better relations between the two neighbours. India, which has made substantial investments in Afghanistan has bent backwards to drive a wedge between Kabul and Islamabad. Indian efforts have been to make Afghanistan dependent on it as well as steer clear of Pakistan. Indian agenda of destabilizing Pakistan includes denying the fruition of development projects that run through Afghanistan. Tajikistan Afghanistan Pakistan India (TAPI) gas pipeline is likely to benefit both Afghanistan and India besides Pakistan but India would like Afghanistan to be conflict ridden lest Pakistan accrue advantages from it. The same goes for the CASA 1000 project. India has set up four Consulates and ten trade missions inside tiny Afghanistan. The same are teeming with RAW agents, who plan subversion, sabotage and sedition campaigns inside Pakistan.
It was expected that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the establishment of the deep sea port of Gawadar would provide a great advantage to Afghanistan but India tried to draw the Afghans away from the benefits of the shorter route to Gawadar, and instead helped develop the port of Chabahar in Iran and built a highway linking Iran and Afghanistan. Afghan transit goods to India via Pakistan and vice versa are beneficial to all three but keep Pakistan outside the loop, India established an air link between Kabul and New Delhi. The costs of this air bridge are so prohibitive that the Afghans scream murder. Moreover most of the items dispatched by Kabul comprise perishable goods and if the flight from New Delhi gets delayed for technical, weather or logistic reasons, Afghan traders suffer immensely.
Kabul should stop blaming Pakistan for its woes or try to use it as a scapegoat for its own shortcomings. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai was correct in his assessment that Afghanistan and Pakistan are conjoined twins and if Kabul sneezes, Islamabad catches cold. Kabul’s grouse is that Afghan Taliban have gained sanctuary in Pakistan and use it to launch terror attacks in Afghanistan. Latest international assessments however, indicate that Afghan Taliban control more than sixty percent of Afghan territory. Under these circumstances, they do not require Pakistan as a safe haven. Moreover, military operations Zarb-i-Azb and Radd-ul-Fassad have driven the Afghan Taliban away from Pakistani soil. On the contrary, Kabul has given sanctuary to the leaders of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who launch attacks on Pakistani targets from Afghanistan, causing great damage.
The two sides i.e. Afghanistan and Pakistan should review their bilateral relations, accept that terror is a common enemy and tackle it with a joint effort. Intelligence sharing and joint operations will go a long way in eradication of the scourge of terror, which has damaged both neighbours. Pakistan’s offers of rehabilitation and reconstruction are devoid of any preconditions or strings. Afghanistan should accept Pakistan’s support wholeheartedly and the two should combine their efforts in making the lives of Afghans easier. The return of Afghan refugees to their homes and the fencing of the Durand Line are a sore point. Both issues can be resolved amicably. There is no substitute to dialogue.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.