The withdrawal of US/NATO forces from Afghanistan after two decades has altered the geo-political fabric of the South Asian region with far reaching impacts even beyond the regional contours. The evolving situation demands deeper scrutiny of a plethora of issues, first and foremost being the recognition of the Taliban regime, which has taken the reins of power in Kabul ensuring its control over every nook and corner of Afghanistan. In this context, as envisioned by the Honourable Speaker Mr Asad Qaiser/ President of the BoG Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS), the Institute hosted a day-long seminar on “Situation in Afghanistan: Prospects & Challenges” on Thursday 18 November 2021. The Seminar comprised of two major sessions apart from the inaugural session. The subject of “Emerging geo-political situation and Pakistan” was the focus of Panel Discussion which was addressed by seasoned panelists specializing in this area. The second panel focused on the “Way forward for regional peace, stability and cooperation.”
Hon. Syed Fakhar Imam, Federal Minister for National Food Security inaugurated the Seminar as the Chief Guest. The event was attended by a packed auditorium attended by around 80 with participants including Hon. Members of National Assembly and Senate, representatives from think-tanks & media, government officials, and academia. Among the Members Standing Committees of Senate and National Assembly, Hon. MNA, Zahra Wadood Fatemi, Senator Zarqa S. Taimur, Senator Samina Mumtaz Zehri, and Senator Walid Iqbal also attended the event. Among think tanks, senior research fellows from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Center for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS) and Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) attended the seminar. Moreover, academia from Riphah University School of Public Policy and School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad participated in the event. Mr. Asif Memon, Director General (SA) represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) government of Pakistan. Ms. Tehseen Khalid, Director (Research) PIPS moderated the inaugural and first panel discussion.
PROCEEDINGS: The seminar commenced with the National Anthem followed by recitation of verses from the Holy Quran. Mr. Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka, Director General (Research) PIPS welcomed the participants and presented an overview of the seminar in the context of the evolving situation in Afghanistan. Ambassador (Retd.) Aizaz Chaudhry, Director General (ISS), during his key note address titled “Prospects & challenges in the wake of new dispensation in Afghanistan,” emphasized that Pakistan should not rush to recognize the Taliban government in isolation. Relevant diplomatic channels should be utilized to take a regional approach for that matter. He stated that first and foremost priority should be the ordinary Afghan people who face daunting challenges in the current situation. He reiterated the need for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan as a priority by regional countries especially China and Pakistan.
With regards to the security situation, he expressed concerns of Afghanistan entering into a situation of civil war that can threaten peace and security in the entire region. He pointed out the Pakistan can be the next target of ISKP. As a precautionary measure, he suggested border fencing and enhanced intelligence viz a viz infiltration of any terrorists. Moreover, he underscored the need for registration of all Afghan citizens in Pakistan and above all a need for a consensus Afghan policy formulated by and at the Parliament. He eulogized the initiative of Hon Speaker Asad Qaiser and the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS) for hosting such timely and comprehensive seminar. As a matter of policy, he suggested keeping contacts with all major factions in Afghanistan besides continued engagement with the United States. He also informed that UN Resolution 1267 puts sanctions against terrorist outfits since 199 including Taliban, which is why the US dollars 9 bn have been halted by the West. He ended his talk by emphasizing that regional approach is the best bet.
Hon. Federal Minister for Food Security Syed Fakhar Imam shed light on the humanitarian crisis brewing in Afghanistan especially in the context of food security and economic revival. He shared that the world at large and regional actors must respond to the grave economic challenge Afghanistan faces today. He informed the august gathering that agriculture accounts for only 22% of Afghanistan’s total GDP of 19.29 bn USD which is meager to even provide essential staple food to the local population. No matter 4 lac jobs in Afghanistan are associated with opium production but their major exports to Pakistan include quality fruits such as apples, pomegranates and peach. With regards to the human rights issues in Afghanistan under discussion at multiple levels, he opined that such matters should be taken up at parliamentary forums. During his address he paid tribute to the Afghans who preferred to die and did not allow foreign powers to conquer them. The Hon. Minister expressed the hope that Pakistan’s continued engagement with the US, China, Russia and Afghanistan can play a decisive role in bridge building for peace, stability and humanitarian support to the new government in Afghanistan as peace is a mutual goal for all.
Dr. Nazir Hussain, Dean Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Wah directed his talk more towards the emerging geopolitical scenario in which new actors have taken role in the region. He pointed towards Turkey, Qatar and China as new power contenders in Afghanistan. Among these countries, Qatar is expected to be safeguarding the US interests in Afghanistan in the post-withdrawal scenario. He opined that Afghanistan issue is now more human security oriented, the traditional security approach seems to be losing its salience. He expressed the concern that the world at large have a grave concern as to who forms the foreign policy of Pakistan. The Cabinet and foreign office must draw policy while a consensus of political leadership at the Parliament is imperative.
Mr. Saleem Safi, during the first panel discussion broadened the debate as he shared his deep insights into the past as well as current situation in Afghanistan. He maintained that with US/NATO withdrawal both challenges and opportunities have emerged in the existing situation. He stated that US has withdrew from Afghanistan but not from region. It still holds the status of super power. Each regional country has its own interests and stakes in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s concerns in the security domain pertain to the role of TTP which has gained strength in the new situation and can create chaos in Pakistan. He said that Pakistan should continue to engage with all stakeholders and groups within Afghanistan. He also stressed that Pakistan should sincerely interact with Afghans as equals and in all trust assist them in consolidation peace, good governance and successful diplomacy. Hon. Senator Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Abdul Qayyum and Ambassador (R) Nadeem Riaz, President, Institute of Strategic Studies (IRS) and Renowned Columnist Mr. Zahid Hussain also spoke on the occasion.
H. E. Sardar Muhammad Shokaib, Charge De Affairs Embassy of Afghanistan in Pakistan, expressed his hope that Pakistan will help Afghanistan in persuading the global community to help the new regime in its efforts for consolidation of peace, economic revival and institutional building in Afghanistan. He informed that as compared to a perpetual killing of around 20 to 30 people on daily basis in the last 20 years during the presence of occupied forces, the last three months of the Taliban Government have brought peace and tranquility where life had returned to normalcy with start of livelihoods, agriculture and trade. He emphasized that the incumbent government in Kabul is certainly inclusive for having all major tribes amply represented. There is complete absence of political prisoners in Afghanistan under the current setup. The incumbent government is trying to fulfill the demands of the international community. He emphasized the US to allow access to US dollars 9 billion of funds donated by international partners so that Afghanistan government succeeds in providing essentials to its citizens. He stressed that Pakistan must engage with the United States and western powers to lift the sanctions put in the wake of UN Resolution 1267 in Oct., 1999. He stated that Taliban did not allow any anti-Pakistan elements to flourish on its territory. The Afghan diplomat thanked the National Assembly of Pakistan and the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services for organizing a comprehensive day-long seminar on Afghanistan – Prospects and Challenges.
While presenting the vote of thanks, Hon. MNA Ms. Zehra Wadood Fatemi, Member National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, applauded the National Assembly of Pakistan and the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services as well as the learned panel for such enlightening seminar. On behalf of Hon Speaker National Assembly/ President PIPS Board of Governors Mr. Asad Qaiser and the Team PIPS, Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka, Director General (Research) thanked the panelists, the Afghan Ambassador and a packed auditorium of participants including MNAs, Senators, Academia, government officials, media men and civil society for their set of way forwards to ensure peace, stability and cooperation in wake of the new Government in Afghanistan. He also informed that PIPS not only offers thematic capacity building sessions for Honorable Members of Parliament within Pakistan but internationally and it looks forward to offer on behalf of the Parliament of Pakistan knowledge sharing for the Afghanistan leadership and government functionaries viz a viz good governance and statehood. The absorbing session concluded with presentation of mementos to panelists and group photo at 2.30 pm with slogan of Long Live Pak-Afghan Friendship.