The Kabul Yatra
Future of Afghanistan’s Relations with its Neighbors
The chief guest at the conference was Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanakzai, Afghanistan’s incumbent Deputy Foreign Minister and leader of Taliban’s at the Doha Talks with the United States. He was accompanied by health minister, Dr Qalandar Ibad, minister for trade and commerce, Haji Noorud Din Azizi, and advisor on Afghan refugees, Qari Mehmood Shah. In the welcoming address, Director-General CSRS, Dr. Shahrukh Raufi, presented the aims and objectives of the conference and the envisaged renewed role of Afghanistan in regional and global politics.
The conference comprised four separate sessions: education, media, business and social areas of cooperation among the regional countries.
In his address, Honorable Deputy Foreign Minister, Sher Abbas Stanakzai, thanked Pakistan for its relentless support of Afghanistan since the USSR invasion, the hosting of millions of Afghan refugees on its soil, and the country’s persistent support for the Afghan peace process. He candidly discussed and highlighted the political and strategic compulsions of Afghanistan’s geographic location, the atrocities faced by Afghans due to their country’s location, the previous approach of regional countries of seeing Afghanistan as a security threat, liability of neighbourhood and the vision of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for its renewed role in the regional and global politics. He called upon the regional actors, especially Pakistan, China and Iran, to invest in various sectors of Afghanistan, and pledged for every type of support to the investors and businessmen. Mr Stanakzai was of the opinion that if the European people can come together and form a union, why Muslim states of South, Central and East Asia are lagging behind in forming such a bloc that can bring them on one single platform to help them trade in one currency and have open borders as well.
He further pledged that after the consolidation of the Taliban government and solving of some crucial issues, the Taliban will consult regional Muslim countries to form such an organization. He offered Pakistan and other neighboring countries to take advantage of the peaceful environment in Afghanistan and use Afghan land as a transit route for making a trade with Central Asian Republics easy and smooth. He also called for investment in Afghanistan’s mining sector.
Other speakers who addressed the conference touched on issues of their respective fields and highlighted the areas where Afghanistan can cooperate with its neighbouring countries. Dr Iqbal Khalil pointed out that the high mountains, vast meadows, rushing rivers and dense forests of Afghanistan present a fascinating view, and can be excellent tourist destinations for international tourists. He called upon the Afghan government to focus on developing the tourism industry as a new venue of image-building and a source of revenue.
The author, being a part of the delegation and a presenter, also got the opportunity to have candid discussions with various Taliban leaders and Guantanamo detainees, and exchanged views with them regarding Pakistan’s role in the development of Afghanistan. To the Taliban leadership, Pakistan is a friend in need and they were thankful for the cooperative behaviour of the people of Pakistan during their stay in the country as refugees. Nevertheless, there were some reservations on the part of the government of Pakistan regarding visa processing and atrocities they face on border crossings. The level of treatment they received from Pakistan’s authorities was vehemently criticized by all. The issues in visa processing, rejection and delay of visas, even in medical emergencies, were very much disturbing for Afghans.
The observations this author made during the visit regarding prevalence of peace and the environment are that the Taliban have full control over every sector of the country, but an environment of fear is still prevailing. However, people have high hopes for normalization of situation in the near future. Last year, during the initial days of the Taliban government, businesses in Kabul came to a grinding halt and foreign investors left Afghanistan but they are now in the phase of re-establishment. Taliban have called upon the Afghan diaspora to come back to their homeland, transfer their capital and re-establish their businesses in their country. Many Afghans have transferred their businesses from foreign countries and are now playing their role in the development of their country. A Taliban commander revealed that they have discovered mines and digging is in process, and the world will be astonished over these reserves once they are announced. The current announcement of the import of coal from Afghanistan by the incumbent government of Pakistan is one of the mineral capabilities that can help build up Afghanistan’s economic structure.
During a conversation with an influential opinion-maker, the author noticed that the merit of appointment to the high posts, especially at the provincial level, is the sacrifices that one had offered during resistance against foreign forces, e.g. detention in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram or other prisons, time spent in the battlefields and financial support to the Taliban. There were also certain revelations that, however, proved to be just rumors and part of the propaganda campaign against the Taliban. For instance, there were reports of closure of girls’ schools and colleges, while on-ground situation was that there were specific days for male and females and no female was barred from getting education. Females were visiting the markets with open faces and there were no restrictions on their movement in markets and parks.
To conclude, I must say that the Kabul yatra proved to be an excellent opportunity to see the ground realities in Afghanistan, exchange views with Afghan brothers, analyze position of Pakistan in the eyes of Afghan and listen to their grievances in this regard. Similarly, it was realized that, in a real sense, Afghanistan is transforming its role in the regional and global politics and is poised to play a crucial role as a regional hub of transit trade. The grievances related to the attitude of Pakistani authorities are increasing day by day and there is a dire need for successive exchange of scholars, delegations and officials, as well as a decrease in the formalities of visa processing, understanding human needs and welcoming Afghans. I am sure it will help us in expediting economic activities. Increasing people-to-people contacts will definitely decrease the level of dis- and mistrust and will help in normalizing the behaviours of all the stakeholders.
The author teaches at department of Political Science, University of Malakand, Chakdara, Lower Dir. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.