In any discussion involving Afghanistan – its stability and the future withdrawal of coalition forces from it – the subject of Pakistan invariably emerges. The US and most European countries have designated their special envoys to Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, making it a point that both countries be included on the itinerary of any official visit.
With religious, ethnic, linguistic and cultural commonalities, it is natural that Pakistan and Afghanistan share their destinies. Imagine 60-70,000 Afghans straddling the Pakistani border every day without visas; thousands of Afghan students studying in Pakistani educational institutions, from primary school through to university education; over 28,000 graduates from Pakistan already contributing to their country’s public and private institutions; and over 95 per cent of Afghans receiving secondary and tertiary medical treatment doing so in Pakistani hospitals, the necessary facilities being unavailable in Afghanistan.
On the economic front, Pakistan and Afghanistan are major trading partners, with bilateral trade valued at US$2 billion annually. Following the signing of the Transit Trade Agreement between the two countries, the volume and variety of trade is likely to increase in the region, particularly with Central Asia. The transportation of Central Asian energy resources to the outside world through Afghanistan and Pakistan would add more substance to the meaningful economic co-operation between these two neighbours.
Stability in Afghanistan is imperative for Pakistan. The US-led coalition’s intention to withdraw from Afghanistan has far-reaching implications for Afghanistan’s security, stability and economic sustainability. Moreover, such a withdrawal would have direct implications for the security and stability of Pakistan and the region – these would largely be shaped by the quality of training imparted by the coalition partners on the Afghan security forces.
Pakistan fully supports the establishment of the High Peace Council (HPC), which is Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s effort to open dialogue with the insurgents who have been trying to bring down his government since the US-led invasion overthrew their regime in late 2001. The HPC, under the leadership of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, is tasked to initiate a dialogue with the insurgents and bring them into the national mainstream in accordance with Afghan traditions. Hopefully, an Afghan-led solution to the current imbroglio would bring a much-desired peace to this war-ravaged country. In the first week of 2011, Professor Rabbani led a high-level HPC delegation to Pakistan, where he met with the President, Prime Minister and heads of major political parties. The two sides were unanimous in launching joint efforts aimed at bringing stability in Afghanistan. It is hoped that HPC will succeed in bringing all the Afghan stakeholders onboard and ushering the country toward peace and progress; however, the success of the political process in Afghanistan will also depend on the support it receives from the international community, especially the US-led coalition.
It is a good omen for Pakistan and Afghanistan that their leaders have struck such a positive chemistry. Ever since the advent of democracy in Pakistan, President Hamid Karzai and his senior cabinet ministers have been frequent visitors to Pakistan, while President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have also paid several visits in return. Similarly, at the institutional level (both civil and military), greater interaction between the two countries has helped in removing misunderstandings which had previously caused distrust.
For Pakistan, peace in Afghanistan would have multi-faceted benefits including the repatriation of most Afghan refugees and the cessation of the flow of weapons and narcotics into Pakistan. It would also, to a great extent, neutralise the extremist tendencies which have plagued the two brotherly countries for the last three decades. However, peace and security in Afghanistan would also be dependent on the attitude of some neighbours and near-neighbours of Afghanistan. It is this aspect of the Afghan security paradigm that the US-led coalition needs to address if, as an international stakeholder, they are interested in the post-withdrawal stability of Afghanistan.