Sultan M Hali
PAKISTAN has bent backwards to accommodate the people of Afghanistan and provided invaluable support to its western neighbour. The people and armed forces of Pakistan have rendered huge sacrifices to ensure Afghan sovereignty. The government of Pakistan has always rendered its sincere offer of help to Afghanistan on multiple fronts in an unparalleled way. Afghans are exempted from paying visa fees for visiting Pakistan. Apart from visa access, Pakistan has also offered admissions in its seats of learning. Some analysts believe that more than half of Afghans have received their education from Pakistan. Pakistan has recently announced two Higher Education scholarships for 3000 Afghan university and college students. Since 1990s, over 50,000 Afghan refugee children have been getting education in Pakistani schools annually. Pakistan Embassy in Kabul announces regular scholarship and technical training opportunities for Afghan students.
Pakistan has funded and furnished state of the art Allama Iqbal-faculty in Kabul University, Sir Syed Science Faculty Block in Nangarhar University, Liaquat Ali Khan Engineering Faculty in Balkh University, Rehman Baba High School in Kabul with a capacity of over 1200 students and hostel capacity of 1000 students apart from donating buses for Kabul University. The sector of health has also received major contributions from Pakistan. Numerous medical, eye and kidney treatment camps have been set up in various areas of Afghanistan. A sprawling Jinnah Hospital Complex with ten towers has been completed in Kabul providing the most modern health facility in the country. Nishtar Kidney Hospital in Jalalabad is also operational. A 200 bed Naib Aminullah Khan Logari Hospital has been gifted to the people of Logan. To help run these facilities, Afghan doctors, paramedics and technicians have been trained in Pakistan. Several other major projects, including two Eye Hospitals, Limb Centre at Badakhshan, two Nuclear Medical Centers in Kabul and Jalalabad, are also the gifts from Pakistan. Pakistan has also donated mobile field hospitals and ambulances to several Afghan provinces.
In the field of communications, a major contribution by Pakistan for Afghans is the construction of four lanes Jalalabad-Torkham carriage way. Pakistan has also helped in the construction of three intra city roads in Jalalabad. Pakistan has moved earth-moving and road building machinery to various provinces and has also donated fifty buses for public transportation. A sum of US$500 million has been spent by Pakistan for reconstruction and assistance projects in Afghanistan. Sports merits special mention. Afghans love cricket and Afghan cricket team has carved a respectable place in international arena. Afghans credit the services offered by Pakistan cricket board and renowned cricketers like Kabir Khan, Rashid Latif and Inzamamul Haq in coaching the team. Almost all Afghan cricketers learned the game while playing in different cities and towns of Pakistan.
Culture and the preservation of traditions deserves mention because Pakistan also played a major role in providing patronage to Afghan artists and artwork. State-owned National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) was the first foreign bank to operate in Afghanistan after 9/11. The telecommunication industry of Afghanistan drew Pakistani manpower, or Afghans trained in Pakistan, in its nascent stage. State-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) pioneered the opening of Afghanistan to international air traffic. It was the first foreign airline to start operations to Kabul after 9/11. Ariana Afghan Airlines used Pakistan’s civil aviation training facilities.
At the height of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, subsequent tribal wars and invasion of Afghanistan by NATO forces, more than five million Afghans sought refuge in Pakistan. Some of them stayed in Pakistan for over three decades. The government and people of Pakistan embraced the refugees with open arms and in the spirit of the Ansars of Medina, took pains to make them comfortable. Ordinary Pakistanis had joined the jihadist campaign to oust the Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Thousand made the supreme sacrifice of their lives. The Soviets tried to punish Pakistan it for its support to the Afghan Mujahedeen. Terror attacks, which were uncommon in Pakistan till the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, became the order of the day. Drugs and illegal arms entered Pakistan. The withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and subsequent chaos in the region affected Pakistan with the rise of militancy and terrorism.
9/11 brought its own challenges. The support extended by Pakistan to the NATO forces made Pakistan a target of terror attacks and more than 70,000 Pakistanis have been martyred while the financial loss amounts to billions of dollars. To be fair, in the 1980s and 1990s, some Pakistani strategists suffered from the miscalculation of considering Afghanistan as part of Pakistan’s strategic depth. This was not to denigrate or turn Afghanistan into a subject state but keeping Afghan sensitivities in mind, the proposal has long been abandoned.
Unfortunately, there appears to be a trust deficit in the minds of Afghan rulers. However, despite the diatribe by subsequent Afghan rulers of Pakistan interfering in Afghan internal affairs, Pakistan will continue its services for its Afghan brothers. The most important service to the cause of both countries as well as the region is commitment to peace, for which dialogue is key. Another important aspect is to avoid false blame game and to focus on positives. Afghanistan blames Pakistan for harbouring Taliban leadership despite Pakistan having destroyed terror camps and driving away miscreants. To enable Pakistan to support the advent of peace in Afghanistan, trust deficit must be removed. It will necessitate concerted efforts from both sides.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
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Sultan M Hali