Pak-Afghan relation: attempts to improve it

An Afghan journalist delegation visited Pakistan in May. In the course of the trip the delegation visited different Pakistani cities and talked with various Pakistani journalists, officials and activists. The delegation reveals its finding of Pak-Afghan crisis-hit relationship.

Pakistan counter-militancy efforts:

Pakistan Military ruler, General P. Musharaff has assumed a new role as peace maker amongst Islamic countries in southern and central Asia. But analysts believe the gesture is a combination of being too confident and attempts to remain relevant to American policy making in the region.

Musharraf’s role as a Muslim strategist hasn’t been very successful so far. Musharraf suggestion to send a muslim force to Iraq, was utterly rejected by Iraqi foreign minister. Showing the inability of muslim countries to set aside differences, overcome home issues and bring reforms.

Pakistan has serious internal problems, facing extremism just like any other country in the region, topped up by a constitutional crisis.
Pakistan chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudary was dismissed by Musharaff, the decision has undermined the independence of Judiciary.
Analysts say that the bold style of justice I. H. Chaudhary and some of his hard decisions might have provoked the decision makers to sideline him instead of taking any risk amidst ongoing judicial activism. There were a number of political cases which were supposed to be brought in the Supreme court for adjudication. A group of military and police officials were also seeking revenge. For instance, general of police Ziaul Hasan was admonished by the chief justice when Punjab police were accused of not implementing 90% directives of the Supreme Court.

Then there is the issue of Pakistan Talibanisatin, Taliban style madrassa students storm capital, Islamabad, streets. This sent a message to the world that Talibanisation of Pakistan is a reality, this is a set back for the return of civilian government and democracy to pakistan, Musharraff has convinced the world when it comes to tackling Taliban properly, he is the person and the civilian government may find it impossible to handle such people. a Pakistani businessman, M Sarwar, said “ the Lal Masjid cleric is taking courage to take the steps he has been taking with a definite backing. The support to the cleric is from strong quarters. Otherwise, there is no reason for the government not to end the standoff and straighten the deal with extremists. There should be no reason to act against those who challenges state sovereignty” international experience is tolerating extremism is not a good policy. By tolerating it we give time for it to grow and whenever extremism sees the situation favorable it will hit on moderate forces. Musharaff has also entered into deals with militants. a peace agreement was concluded on 5 September 2006 between Pakistan and the local Taliban of North Waziristan. But the deal did not prevent the use of the tribal area as a staging ground for attacks on Afghanistan, which had been one of the agreement’s central stipulations. Security incidents involving insurgents instead rose by 50 percent in Khost and 70 per cent in Paktika, between September and November 2006, and were accompanied by intensified propaganda activities in the form of night letters, targeted kidnappings, and preaching by itinerant mullahs. There were reports of cross-border movement in both directions.

Security decisions seem to serve some other purpose not yet clear to media. Ayesha Seddiqa a strategic affairs analyst, on the subject of threat perception said “in politically underdeveloped societies in particular, the armed forces project themselves as saviors … threats are often consciously projected to justify spending on the military”
The Pakistani military is amplifying the threat of extremism; the question is, in the face of losing credibility and reputation, what is the military getting?

Pakistan is the single largest receipt of Washington anti-terror war. In the first four years after 9/11 Pakistan received more than $3billion from the Coalition Support Fund. Because of CSF, Pakistan now ranks as one of the largest recipient of US military aid and assistance, rivaling long-time US favorites Israel and Egypt.

Fighting extremism is not the only problem, the US state department’s 2006 country terrorism report is concerned about Pakistan’s ability “to cooperate internationally on counter terrorism finance issues” but the anti money laundering bill is stalled in the national assembly. Analysts believe the anti-money laundering bill will make the military and its intricately connected crony system of big business and industrialists very uncomfortable. A recent Pakistani securities and exchange report indicates there are at least six key operatives manipulating the stocks.

To strengthen military efforts NATO came up with an initiative, NATO assumed responsibility for co-chairing the military Tripartite Commission, and has made the development of operational cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani armies one of its highest priorities. An additional working group was created to focus on coordination of border security operations, and an Afghan, Pakistani and ISAF joint operations intelligence cell, tasked with enabling the sharing of military intelligence, was established in Kabul. The question is how much has been achieved through improving tactical coordination. NATO pressed on the twentieth plenary session of the tripartite commission in Pakistan on 12 January 2007. It focused on improving tactical coordination. In addition to the subcommittees for border security, military intelligence-sharing and counter-improvised explosive devices, the Tripartite Commission developed terms of reference for the new Operational Coordination Working Group and conducted preliminary joint planning for offensive pre-emptive operations in spring 2007.

The new operational and tactical coordination terms didn’t stop the insurgency. The figures for March 2007, for example, were almost triple those in January 2006. there was a marked increase in insurgent forces prepared to engage in conventional combat operations against Afghan Military Forces (AMF) and international security forces, and a significant improvement in the insurgents’ tactics and training.
The pre-emptive operations launched, using intelligence-sharing of tripartite commission has so far affected civilians the most; Afghan insurgency has an average of 200 casualties every month, this spring , with a significant number of civilian deaths.

Trade and investment potentials:

Pakistan provides modern rail as well as road facilities and Afghanistan offers short distance for trade. Afghanistan is the natural route for central Asia and eastern china. Afghanistan’s largest border is with Pakistan; therefore it cannot serve as a transit hub between south and central Asia unless relations improve between them. A transit corridor from central to south Asia through Afghanistan would cost less than US$ 6 billion. The returns on this investment, at full development in 2010, in combined regional trade would be 160 percent greater and transit trade would be 111 percent greater than they would have been without the corridor. Shirkhan Bridge is to be inaugurated soon, this will connect Afghanistan and Tajikistan through which Pakistan and the whole central Asia would be linked. An area of 40KM will be declared free trade area in Shirkhan Bandar where Afghan and Tajik traders will roam without a visa.

Renovation of the china, Kyrgyz-Uzbek transnational highway is underway and the road connects china with Tajikistan was recently completed. The possibility that this transport link could provide access for Tajikistan and china to the Indian ocean through Afghanistan and pakistan appears high.

In addition to national products the region could exchange electricity, oil and gas.
Turkmensitan-afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project is important to meet the growing energy needs of pakistan and India. It was this April Afghanistan joined SAARC. Afghanistan and Pakistans’ membership and association of the regional organizations namely SCO, SAARC and ECO lend both countries a unique position to facilitate inter-regional cooperation. Geography has endowed Afghanistan and pakistan with unique potential to become the hub of economic activity in our region.

Agreements on electricity transit were reached between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Tajikistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Kyrgyzstan. The agreement facilitates Tajik and Kyrgyz electricity to transit to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The central Asian states produce a large sum of surplus power. Major foreign investment is underway in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to build hydroelectric damn and power plants as well as upgrading the technology. Russian companies has invested US$ 370 million in the last three years in Tajik energy sector.
Pakistan and Afghanistan suffer severe power shortage. Less than 12% of Afghan households has access to electricity. Last winter the situation was particularly bad, residential areas had four hours of power every three 72 hours. “Pakistan will soon undertake the renovation of an Afghan power plant” J.J Jamal, federal culture minister of culture of pakistan. Corruption and mismanagement is major part of the problem but power production capacity remains very low. Afghan government has been unable neither to redo power damns nor to build new ones. International community in Afghanistan is also not interested to invest in fundamental projects.

Pakistan also faces power shortage, water and power authorities in Pakistan (WAPDA) has introduced a new plan for power conservation. The plan introduces two hour electricity shed every six hours.

An electricity transmission cable has already been extended from Tajikistan to Kabul.
These positive developments together with the Gwadar project make Pakistan and Afghanistan an indispensable link for SCO member states.

Neighboring countries, Pakistan specifically, has contributed extensive financial and technical assistance to Afghanistan’s infrastructure. Hundreds of kilometers of roads were built and/or rehabilitated, irrigation and water supply systems were reconstructed, three hospitals and 10 schools were built and a number of higher education institutions received research laboratories, textbooks, computers and other equipment. In an encouraging sign of technical cooperation, the Afghan and Pakistani Ministers of Health launched a cross-border polio vaccination campaign, supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Advancing regional cooperation remains a strategic priority for Afghanistan. Institutional frameworks, launched at the Regional Economic Cooperation Conferences in Kabul and New Delhi (and within the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board), require commitment and support within the region and the international community.
This is another area where strategies remain strategies and doesn’t embody in form of action. In a gesture of boosting coordination, Karzai turned down 500 scholarships from Pakistan “I am throwing out this gift out of the window” said Karzai. “twelve thousand Afghans are currently studying in higher education institutions of Pakistan” said Bashir Sadaat, second secretary of Afghanistan in Pakistan “Afghan students graduating from Pakistani universities has the highest return rate to Afghanistan than from any other country in the world” he said. “Afghan graduates of Pakistan universities has most of the senior jobs in Afghanistan” said Fareed Haidari, Afghan cultural attaché in Pakistan. Afghanistan image would certainly change positively if there are educated Afghans interacting with Pakistani counterparts on daily basis. “Karzai decision to turn down Pakistani scholarships was political” said Fareed Haidari, Afghan cultural attaché.

The Government of Pakistan reconfirmed its decision to close four refugee camps in the North-West Frontier Province and in Balochistan. The operation is scheduled to be completed by 31 August 2007. The residents will be offered the option of returning to Afghanistan or relocating to other camps in Pakistan.

There are over 2.5 million Afghans still in Pakistan. The worsening economical and security situation prevailing in Afghanistan doesn’t allow them to return. Iran has already started force expulsion of Afghans, creating a humanitarian crisis, over which two ministers were evicted by the parliament. There is no foreseeable hope for the future of Pak-Afghan relation, which might affect Afghan refugee situation. Afghan government should closely monitor the situation for any sign of force expulsion of Afghans from Pakistan. Pakistan prime minister, Shaukat Aziz renewed his government vow for the repatriation of Afghan refugee at G8 summit. Regular meetings of Afghan diplomats and Afghan refugee attaché s shall be held with refugees in all major cities. Ministry of refugees and repatriation should monitor Pakistani media to have a better knowledge of Pakistan attitude toward refugees. Afghan ministry of foreign affairs and afghan mission in Pakistan should regularly discuss the faith of refugees with Pakistan. Afghan ministry of foreign affairs and ministry of refugees and repatriation shall release the report of Pakistan mission to media.

Media and free expression:

Afghan and Pakistani media is not doing a brilliant job, fulfilling their mission, which is alerting the government of social injustices resulting in worsening security and public discontent. Afghan and Pakistan government reliance on western money has distanced them from their people. both Afghan and pakistan government have bad human rights record and it’s got worst after 9/11. Strategic importance has got priority to human rights for America and the west. Afghanistan and Pakistan receives huge sums of money in white checks for their geopolitical importance in Bush terror campaign.

Visiting journalist delegation from both countries greatly enhances understanding or least reduces hostility, “my view has changed 180 degrees, I had a different image of Pakistan, but now when I think about pakistan I don’t think about government I think about all the people I have met” said Ghaws Zalmai, head of Afghan journalist union on his return at Kabul airport. The visit was a chance for Afghans to network with Pakistani society and people.
Afghan government should take similar steps and invite Pakistani journalists. A week trip wouldn’t cost much but it will have tremendous affect on visiting journalist and s/he will make a life time impression and connection to Afghanistan.

Majority of people in Pakistan and Afghanistan only know politically about each other, they know the situation prevailing on the face of it. but they don’t know the situation in itself, for Pakistan, Afghanistan ends up to Peshawar, behind Peshawar there is a hindrance, there is a cultural block, there is a social block, so that should have been broken, once that is broken there is a great potential. Peshawar is a lot like Afghanistan – traditionally and culturally, but in Punjab, Sind and Baluchistan there is a lot of things laying unattended. Even if we organize a food festival, people would come to a food festival; people would come to see what is the food like. Chinese are all over the world, only selling their food and now you see Chinese product too, they started with cultural penetration and everything else followed.

Pakistan government has realized that Afghan media is now playing a major role, politicians and MPs who were once Pakistan cronies now want to blame Pakistan, it’s popular and sexy to hit on Pakistan. Pakistan want to win some sympathy among media.

“Afghanistan and Pakistan relation can be explained in details through dialogue, inviting political parties and private sector as well as neighboring countries. You can tell us what you think about Pakistan, what is the misunderstanding. A lot of exchanges could be done in political, religious and social area” said Tariq Badaruddin, director of Al-jareeda newspaper.

Media definitely has a role to play, but would only be successful if its freedom is ensured.
Media in Afghanistan is one of the few achievements of the five years since the fall of the Taliban regime. But it remains fragile as journalists feel the effects of deteriorating security, threats from warlords, conservative religious leaders and an increasingly hard-pressed government. “Media freedom ends the minute you touch a warlord or a government official,” said Mohammad Hassan Wolesmal, editor of Afghan Milli Jarida, whose home was attacked in March after the paper carried an article critical of President Hamid Karzai.
The growing presence in the media of Taliban rebels has led the secret services to try to impose a degree of censorship. The secret services ordered journalists to stop using the expression “warlord” and to support the efforts of the Afghan army. Despite the outcry, Hamid Karzai confirmed that he had been consulted by the authors of the list, because, he said, certain imperatives had to be taken into account in the interests of national security.
In Pakistan, there has been a major escalation in the incidents of attacks on media, including government attempts to muzzle the media during the period May 3, 2006 to May 3, 2007 At least five journalists were killed, 17 were arrested or detained, 61 injured in physical attacks or tortured and 27 harassed or intimidated while 11 cases of attacks on media property and 16 cases of official restrictions imposed on media to censor coverage or gag orders were reported.
There has also been a discernable rise in the numbers of attempts by the government to stop and interrupt TV transmissions and even official written directives to TV channels to stop airing certain current affairs programs and influencing content of others.
Armed Pakistani tribesmen had been imposing their own hardline version of Islam in the lawless border region near Afghanistan, their influence is spreading, and the state seems powerless to stop it. “We believe that you are justified in carrying out suicide bombings against the enemies of Islam” said Pakistan Taleban commander Qari Sarfraz in an interview with BBC. “Suicide attacks are the only way to confront Jewish and Christian domination in Afghanistan and Iraq” said Mawlana Fazalullah in an interview with Khyber television on May 25. Mawlana Fazalullah is a controversial figure in Swat who opposes girls’ education and vaccination. Fazalullah has set up an FM radio station without acquiring the license; through his radio he prevented Polio vaccine to reach 25000 children. “if Allah has destined them to live, there is no need for vaccination” is the message through FM station. Pakistan government went to talk with him in an attempt to persuade him to stay quiet on the issue of vaccination “The question is whether the government could tolerate a moderate FM station, broadcasting without license” said a Pakistani media activist. Extremists and their message of hatred would only prevail if moderate voices are not persuaded.

In spite the policy set backs for media growth, there is the expansion of media too. The unconventional reason for this media expansion in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan where democracy doesn’t have a very good record, in these countries people are afraid of police, police controls everything, but the police is afraid of one thing – that is the media. Sometimes, people come to have a dummy newspaper to play a negative role in the society, so they try to blackmail part of the society one way or the other, to have this role they bay out on the media. that is why there are more 200 newspapers coming out of Lahore alone, under different shapes some are dummy newspapers, some only have the Cards and they use the cards with difference to places, so this is also effective. Then there is the advertisement, even the dummy gets some share of the advertisement.
Some have newspaper to safeguard their own interests, they have a newspapers so they can do a lot of things which could be protected behind the newspaper. That is why you can see out of hundreds of newspapers five or six have prominent role in current affairs.
Pak and Afghan media do go outside their journalistic ethics, slandering and insulting people and cultures. This only defines the media and doesn’t say much about a nation or culture. Pakistani media doesn’t hesitate to insult Afghans, on May 27th edition of The Nation an article was published under the title “Afghan or Collared Pika” it writes “Pika live in loose colonies and are often erratic in occurrence even in favorable habitat. By nature they are inquisitive. They often remain motionless on a prominent rock as an intruder approaches but are very agile in scampering over huge rocks when retreating … unlike the Hares and Rabbits these comparatively small animals lack any tail and have medium sized rounded ears…”
The Nation was founded 67 years ago on Islamic principals, supporting the ideology of Muslim nation and political Islam, and a wider vision for Islamic world.

Pakistan public not happy with the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan

Soahila is among many Afghan working in MarriottSoahila claims to be from Kabul but she has never been to Afghanistan “my parents go to Afghanistan regularly” she said. Soahila works in Marriott, a super fancy hotel, out of any Afghan and Pakistani realities where accommodation could cost up to US$1800, which equals four years of average Afghan income.
Soahila is wearing a smart strip suit with no headscarf, she is happily serving guests in Nadia Buffet “Afghanistan remains dangerous, I have heard, at broad day light, people get stabbed or shot on the street. There are stories of horror and occupation” said Soahila “I don’t want to go to Afghanistan, I won’t be able to work” she added. She seemed disturbed when we were talking about future “I don’t know what to say about Afghanistan, Afghans in Islamabad are either waiting to go abroad (western countries) or don’t have home to return”

Kashmir or Afghanistan: the Nation resident editor, Mr. Hamadani, is holding a page dedicated to disputed territories“What do you think of presence of occupation force in Afghanistan?” or “what do Afghans think of Pakistan?” are two of the common questions posed by Pakistani journalists, to a visiting Afghan journalist delegation. Pakistan has been home to millions of Afghan refugees for over two decades, yet the politics of Afghanistan remain clandestine for many Pakistanis. Most of Karzai’s administration senior officials were under Pakistan supervision for at least two decades, some of them were even working for Pakistan secret service, yet the agenda of them remain unknown and unreliable. Afghan policies are misperceived and misunderstood, Afghan politicians haven’t been able to make their point to their closest neighbor “the people of Afghanistan are totally against occupation forces” writes the Nation in it’s May 26th edition after a meeting with the Afghan journalist delegation, the paper continues “the delegation observed that press in Afghanistan is not as free as it is in Pakistan” Nawa-i- Waqt and the Nation are two conservative papers in Pakistan with very large circulation. “we have hundreds of reporters” said Muhammad Nawaz Raza, chief reporter. The Nation is published in English with a Page on Kashmir/Afghanistan. Although the nation puts Afghanistan on one sheet with Kashmir, a territory Pakistan claims over, but they don’t have a reporter in Afghanistan “we pulled our reporter out of Afghanistan, for security reasons and often maltreatment” said Jawid Sediq, resident editor for Nawa-i-Waqt.

“Your President, Mr. Karzai, has only one thing to say: Pakistan is behind the terrorists, but its the allied forces who hasn’t been able to restore peace in Afghanistan” said Hamadani, resident editor of the English paper, the nation “I love Afghans, they have lived here, some of our men has married Afghan women” emphasizing on commonalities he continued “we have the common language” he said in English “so there is people to people contact” police and crisis-hit government are unable to respond wisely to social, political and international changes. Their sole concern is how to maintain power, mounting social objections as a result, creates a vibrant force craving for change. Failed states tend to change this to a power used against the neighbors and the region. Unfortunately, this is not easily realized by the population. “here in pakistan we would like to know what is really life like in Afghanistan” said a senior journalist for Naw-i-Waqt “Afghanistan continue to be under occupation, how is it to live there?” he asked “I don’t expect such questions from a Pakistani journalist” said Mr. Qayum, an afghan media manager “Afghanistan is not occupied and we are totally against occupation” Qayum continued “how could Afghans trust Karzai while he doesn’t trust them, he has American body guards” the Pakistani journalist argued.

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