Mr. John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive IISS,
H.E. Wajid Shamsul Hassan, the High Commissioner for Pakistan,
Mr. Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South Asia,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by thanking Mr. Adam Ward for providing me this opportunity to share my views on “Post 2014 Transition in Afghanistan – Pakistan’s Perspective on Regional Security and Stability” at this prestigious venue of policy influentials. Surely, the International Institute of Strategic Studies is known for its reservoir of cutting-edge expertise on security-related issues. And I look forward to this interactive session with such learned audience.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Afghanistan’s history as a theatre of great-power rivalry and intervention is well-known. So is its reputation as a “graveyard of empires”!
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 lasted for more than 10 years and finally culminated in the end of the Cold War. The consequences of that mis-adventure for the global system aside, many of the internal ethnic and tribal balances that had evolved in Afghanistan over two centuries were seriously disturbed during those 10 fateful years. As the Cold War considerations disappeared, the international community also made a hasty exit. Afghanistan remained mired in conflict that eventually created conditions in which a global terrorist network was able to function and flourish with palpable ease.
As for the current phase, the post-9/11 military intervention by the U.S. has become the “longest war” in American history. The results of this venture are mixed at best. More than one decade and trillions of dollars later, the many accomplishments are overshadowed by myriad challenges. There has indeed been impressive progress in reviving the economy and expanding education and health facilities as well as improving transport and communications infrastructure. But, at the same time, the security situation remains volatile, the national reconciliation process still dogged, and poverty and under-development rather pervasive.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
As a closest neighbour, Pakistan shares multiple ethnic, religious and cultural commonalities with Afghanistan. More significantly, the two countries share a common strategic space in the region.
From the outset, Pakistan was and continues to remain directly affected by the happenings next door. While we hosted the largest refugee population in the world, we suffered dearly from the culture of violence and extremism, arms proliferation, and narco trafficking. From war-lordism to cross-border organized crime, Pakistan continued to get the brunt of the unstable situation in Afghanistan.
The clearest lesson that can be drawn from three decades of conflict and turmoil in Afghanistan is that the security and future prosperity of the two countries remain inter-linked. The impact of the crises in Afghanistan and their spill-over into Pakistan continues to be formidable. The price paid by Pakistan in handling the fall-out of the Afghan situation has been incalculable, both in blood and treasure.
Looking ahead, a major source of concern for Pakistan remains the specter of any fresh influx of refugees – with all its attendant consequences. We host over 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees, while the total number is over 3 million. Militancy, arms, drugs and other negative cross-border phenomena form part of our other central concerns.
Pakistan, therefore, has vital stakes in a peaceful, stable and united Afghanistan. Such an Afghanistan is critical for us, as we grapple our own key domestic challenges — ranging from extremism to internal security to energy security to revival of the economy.
In the medium and longer term perspectives, Pakistan’s vision of progress and prosperity through enhanced regional economic cooperation cannot be realized without peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Afghanistan is at a defining moment in its history. It seeks to emerge from decades of instability and conflict and step into a peaceful and stable future. It is a new beginning fraught with challenges, and yet brimming with hope.
Afghanistan’s multiple transitions — security, political and economic — are interconnected. The cumulative effect of all these transitions would impact Afghanistan – as well as the region and beyond.
The challenge is how to ensure regional security and stability. This requires both preventive and proactive measures. Preventive measures could include enhanced border security, defence and intelligence capabilities, counter-terrorism and counter narcotic efforts, and so on. But these only address a partial spectrum of the problem. What is needed is a proactive approach involving peace cultivation through a forward-looking, multi-track, and cross-cutting strategy.
How can we secure and provide regional security and stability? We believe we should focus on preventive as well as, if not more, on the proactive aspects:
I. Successful TransitionsPeaceful political transition including Afghanistan’s elections, security capability of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and transformation of the war economy into a peaceful and stable economy are of critical importance.
II. Progress in the Peace and Reconciliation ProcessThe messageto all Afghan stakeholders should be clear and unequivocal: negotiate, not fight; coexist; mutually understand each other; and give and take.
As you know, Pakistan has taken a number of steps to facilitate this process, including the release of Taliban detainees at the request of the Afghan government and the High Peace Council. We also support the HPC “roadmap” to engage the Taliban. We will continue to work with the Afghan government and HPC to advance the cause of reconciliation.
Pakistan’s role is important, but we do not have the key. Ours is in fact an unenviable position, with high and often unrealistic expectations. Our influence has limits. Ultimately, the primary responsibility rests with the Afghans themselves to come together, make peace, and rebuild their country. They must work out an Afghan solution for Afghanistan.
III. Regional Consensus on Non-interferenceThere is need for consensus among the regional countries and other stake-holders on strict non-interference in Afghanistan. Pakistan has no favourites in Afghanistan. It is our hope that other regional players will refrain from meddling in Afghan affairs and there is no repeat of what had happened in the 1990s. There should be no scope for anyone using Afghan territory to de-stabilize others.
Instead, the international community can and should help Afghanistan by supporting reconstruction and economic development.
IV. Long-term Economic Assistance An economic vacuum in Afghanistan post 2014 could have fateful consequences. Therefore, it is critically important to ensure long-term support, organized along the following lines:
a. Fulfill pledges/commitments of assistance to Afghanistan.
b. Help Afghanistan develop its domestic institutions.
c. Focus on reconstruction/development of key priority areas, such as health, education, infrastructure.
d. Actively seek to generate employment opportunities.
e. Develop human resource development.
f. Promote regional economic cooperation including energy, transport, connectivity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Why it is important for the international community to have a peaceful and stable Afghanistan? This is not too difficult to answer, if we consider the following:
i. Security is indivisible. Instability cannot be contained, or for too long. We know it from our own experience.
ii. Instability spills over and exacerbates common challenges — including extremism, terrorism, drugs and transnational organized crime.
iii. Peace and stability cannot be ensured through preventive, defensive or military measures alone.
iv. Peace and stability have to be nurtured, through multifaceted efforts in diverse fields.
v. Our collective experience tells us that the cost of providing and maintaining peace is invariably a fraction of the cost of making and securing peace.
At this consequential moment, therefore, any impulse to abandon Afghanistan — again — must be strongly resisted. In our own enlightened self-interest, there should be deeper and across-the-board engagement.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The valiant Afghan people have shed enough blood through the past three decades resisting foreign forces invading Afghan territory in their military and strategic pursuits. It is about time that Afghanistan opportunity realized its potential as a great “connecter” and a land-bridge.
Instead of armies and weapons, Afghanistan should host trade, investment, energy resources and tourism. This is how Pakistan would like to share the geographic space with Afghanistan in the future. Pakistan wishes to see Afghanistan emerge as a regional “economic and commercial hub.”
Let me conclude with the famous verses from Rudyard Kipling’s “Cities and Thrones and Powers”:
Cities and Thrones and Powers,
Stand in Time’s eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die:
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth,
The Cities rise again.
Ladies and Gentlemen,I thank you once again for your patient hearing.
Last modified: November 20, 2019
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