a Dependable Partner for Economic Cooperation
By Talat Sattar
are excerpts from an interview on “Pakistan
and Afghanistan relations” with the Central
President of Awami National Party, Mr. Asfandyar
Regional cooperation is a historic requirement of
our times for nations and states to achieve the
goals of socio-economic development and also to
achieve a dignified place in the ever-growing process
of globalization. Most of the countries including
the big powers have recognized this reality and
are promoting regional cooperation in various forms.
In fact, new regional entities have emerged during
the last few decades that have changed the political
geography of our world.
Unfortunately, Pakistani foreign policy is still
suffering from a hangover of the cold war that ended
about a decade and a half ago. That is why the level
of the country’s relationship with its neighbors
is far lower than the desirable level. It is pretty
clear that this region is lagging far behind the
rest of the world in developing structures for regional
economic and political cooperation and all countries
have no time to lose to create the necessary political
will for resolving the conflicts through political
negotiations. Awami National Party as true follower
of Baacha Khan has the honor of keeping a consistent
stand on peaceful and good neighborly relations
with all the neighboring countries. We had stood
by our principled position even in those times when
some chauvinists and demagogues were talking of
a thousand years war with one neighboring country
or when some hegemonists were enjoying the pipe
dream of creating “strategic depth”
in another country. Some of them even did not hesitate
in leveling different allegations against us for
our consistent position of favoring peace. But we
are very glad to see that the realization about
the need for peaceful relations with countries of
the region is dawning on different political circles.
We fully support all the efforts for building peace
in the region on all sides.
Today I shall focus on Afghanistan for obvious reasons.
As Pakhtoons it is only natural for us to take the
demand of peace for Pakhtoons as our first priority
although we do understand the fact that we can achieve
peace for ourselves only as part of regional and
international peace. Relations between Afghanistan
and Pakistan were complicated from day one for historic
reasons. They got further complicated during the
last three decades because of the flawed and unrealistic
policies followed by successive governments in this
country towards Afghanistan. Efforts at imposing
its favorites on Afghanistan brought Pakistan on
the wrong side of Afghan nationalism. Although General
Pervaiz Musharraf declared a change in the Afghan
policy of the country after September 11 that was
termed a “u-turn” by some people, but
some elements in the ruling establishment refused
to fall in line with the pronounced policy of the
government. Their activities for fomenting trouble
in Afganistan have a destabilizing effect on the
whole region. Situation in Waziristan is a direct
fallout of the aforementioned defiance against the
declared state policy by certain influential elements.
Moreover, it is certainly the most important irritant
in the relations of the two countries. It has to
be addressed on priority basis and the government
of Pakistan has to match its deeds with its words
to overcome the credibility gap. Pakistan itself
will also gain a lot in terms of promoting peace
and stability through decisive measures based on
a clear policy.
After making impressive progress on the road to
put in place a legitimate constitutional and representative
system, Afghanistan is emerging very fast as a dependable
partner for economic cooperation. Trade between
Pakistan and Afghanistan has dramatically increased
to about one billion US dollars annually and has
the potential to grow further. In order to promote
socio-economic relationship between the two countries
on sustainable and long-term basis, Awami National
Party proposes to the governments of Pakistan and
Afghanistan to take the following measures to build
infrastructure and create conducive atmosphere.
1. Both the
countries should start to gradually ease the visa
regime for their citizens with the ultimate aim
of doing away with it. They can take a start by
exempting different categories of their citizens
from visa restrictions for traveling between the
two countries like elected representatives, media
people, members of the chambers of commerce, senior
citizens, women, children and members of different
professional groups and go on expanding it to reach
the ultimate end.
2. The growing volume of trade and traveling by
a large number of people has put a great burden
on the two main roads of Spin Boldak-Kandahar- Kabul
Road and Torkham-Kabul Road. While it is desirable
to expand these two main roads and improve their
quality, there are at least ten other roads that
can be built and used for trade and traveling between
the two countries. From our side following are the
ten roads suggested for construction: Garram Chishma
and Arrundoo (Chitral), Charmang and Nawa Pass (Bajore),
Khapakh (Momand), Tari Mangal and Kharlachi (Kurram),
Ghulam Khan (N. Waziristan), Angoor Adda (S.Waziristan),
and Qammardin Karez (Zhob).
3. Work should start on planning and preparing for
building railway links between the two countries.
These links along with a network of roads are vital
for future trade between Central Asia and South
4. It is very strange that Government of Pakistan
has ignored Peshawar and Quetta while starting air
links with Kabul. Flights should immediately start
between the aforementioned cities, as at the moment
people have to travel first to Islamabad to catch
a flight for Kabul. This is totally unfair and it
should change to provide relief to the bulk of passengers
going to Kabul and coming back.
5. Agreements between the two countries about starting
Peshawar-Jallalabad and Quetta-Qandahar bus services
should be enforced in the near future and they should
not go into political cold storage.
6. Business community from Pakhtoonkhwa, FATA and
Balochistan has a negligible share in Pak-Afghan
trade due to the economic underdevelopment of the
area. This situation has come into being as a consequence
of the discriminatory policies of the Punjabi-dominated
ruling establishment of the country. The aforementioned
areas should receive special incentives to develop
industry and increase its share in the trade between
the two countries. Ban on export of gee and brown
sugar should go to provide relief to the people
of the area.
7. Pakistan should actively pursue remodelling of
the Afghan Transit Trade. It should abolish all
the negative lists developed over the past decade
and promote unfettered free trade with Afghanistan,
which will eventually be a prelude to establish
a regional free trade regime between South Asia
and Central Asia.
8. Both the countries should encourage people-to-people
contact to break the stereotypes that had come into
being during political tension between the two countries.
Media in the two countries should refrain from indulging
in hate propaganda. Pakistan can do a lot in this
area, as propaganda structures that were originally
created to prop up previous regimes in Afghanistan
are still intact in Pakistan and they very often
indulge in negative projection. It should come to
an end immediately.
9. Universities in Kabul, Jallalabad, Khost and
Qandahar should develop close relations of academic
cooperation with Universities in Peshawar, Dera
Ismail Khan and Quetta.
10. People from Pakhtoonkhwa and Baloochistan should
have the permission to visit different provinces
of Afghanistan to participate in traditional festivals
and cultural activities. Citizens from Afghanistan
should also have the same right to visit different
places in Pakhtoonkhwa and Baloochistan. The followers
of Baacha Khan should have the freedom to visit
the tomb of their leader in Jallalabad.
11. Administrative, political and legal reforms
should be introduced in the Federally Administered
Tribal Area (FATA) according to the wishes of the
people of tribal area in order to not only providing
basic rights to the people of the area but also
for creating conducive atmosphere for international
trade and traveling in the region.
12. Peshawar-Jalalabad, Khost- Bannu, and Quetta–Kandahar
should be declared twin cities so the local governments
and peoples of these cities can establish cooperation
in civic and cultural spheres.
13. Both the countries should work towards releasing
all the innocent prisoners languishing in the jails
of neighbouring countries.
14. Both the countries with the help of the international
community, should work towards an honourable and
voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees to their
country. Afghan refugees should not be used as fodder