Afghanistan, a Dependable Partner for Economic Cooperation
By Talat Sattar

The following are excerpts from an interview on “Pakistan and Afghanistan relations” with the Central President of Awami National Party, Mr. Asfandyar Wali Khan.
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 Asia.
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 of war.

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.