Share on Facebook
> Pak-Afghan peace initiative requires people-to-people contact; Peace Jirgas will remain a partial success without including Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami

September 07, 2007
Best Western Hotel, Islamabad


Islamabad, September 07; Participants of recently-held Pak-Afghan Peace Jirga believed that the jirga has been an important step towards building people-to-people contact. However, it is crucial to include warring factions such as Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami in the talks, any future jirga or any dialogue, to resolve various deadlocks.


Mr. Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Pakistanís Federal Minister for Interior, Mr. Khalid Aziz, Former Chief Secretary NWFP, Mr. Rustam Shah Mohmand, Former Chief Secretary NWFP and Mr. Ummar Khan Ali Sherzai, Director General Foreign Office of Pakistan were speakers at a panel in the roundtable discussion on the topic of ďFollow-up of Pak-Afghan JirgaĒ organised by PILDAT. The objective behind holding the dialogue was to gauge and assess effectiveness of the recently-concluded Pak-Afghan Jirga and the necessary steps Pakistan needs to undertake to strengthen relations with its country Afghanistan.


As a chair of the session Mr. Sherpao praised the effort of PILDAT in holding the roundtable discussion and said that the government was committed to resolving its issues with Afghanistan. He called for the civil society to come forward and help in taking forward the people-to-people dialogue between the two countries.


Mr. Khalid Aziz believed that it was important that the issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan are resolved using a new prism of increasing bilateralism and people-to-people contact and called for rejecting the view that only military, security agencies and the foreign office held the key towards resolving issues or improving relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Reviewing the progress achieved through the peace jirga, he said that jirgas have been an important instrument of Afghanistan society while Pakistan is used to a different approach of law and institutions towards resolving issues. He believed that for the jirga objectives to be met, it was important that findings from the jirga and future jirgas of smaller size be put in front of the Pakistani Parliament to apprise the peopleís representatives and people at large of the scenario developing between two states on key issues of mutual concern. Afghanistan is a different country from India and therefore different approach is required to resolve it, he believed. Negotiations across the border were necessary, he highlighted, which should involve people of all walks of life from both sides.


Mr. Ummar Khan Ali Sherzai believed that the peace jirga was an important initiative towards resolving issues between the two countries. He lamented that Pakistanís foreign policy towards Afghanistan has never been discussed by the people of Pakistan. The use of force on either side or emotional rhetoric was not going to take the countries forward. The two countries dealt with political issues and political solutions need to be found for those, he added. He believed that for negotiations to be meaningful, it was important that all groups, including Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami, are involved in those. He believed that the institution of the Political Agent introduced by the British was a clever move to manage the otherwise difficult region with a 1700 KM long, porous border. This institution has been corrupted over the years, he held and called for a revitalisation of the institution of Political Agent in tribal areas of Pakistan. He believed that due to the long terrain and rough borders, it was no longer possible for Frontier Corps and the use of force alone for Pakistan to manage its tribal areas. He believed that destabilisation of Afghanistan was in no way suited to Pakistanís own interests in the region.


Mr. Rustam Shah Mohmand believed that it was not to capture Osama Bin Laden, the much-trumpeted reason for US attack on Afghanistan in 2001, but that US interests in the region which made US come to Afghanistan. He said that these US objectives were to dismantle an Islamic government [of Taliban] which was a danger to the stability of Central Asian States where US has long-term interests; bring a change in the policy of Pakistan; have access to oil and gas reserves in Central Asian states and have military presence in the region to browbeat Iran. The US has largely achieved these two objectives but in the process it has suffered major losses: the US emphasis to love, pluralism, democracy and human rights remain shattered for all times to come in this world due to its treatment of Afghans and Muslims in Guantanamo Bay. This has created a general acrimony and hatred amongst the World for US policies and US role which is especially severe in Muslims around the world. He said that more than 50,000 Us and NATO forces were fighting in Afghanistan and killing at an average 100 Afghan civilians a day. On the other hand, Afghan resistance shows no signs of abating. Neither any Member of Parliament in Afghanistan, nor Afghan government, have been able to prevent their constituents and people at large from fighting against the the Allied forces. Over 17 billion dollars have been poured in Afghanistan over the last 6 years by the US but only 12% Afghans have access to piped water, 14% to basic sanitation, 6-8% have access to electricity; 20%children die before the age of 5 due to malnutrition. This is because of an institutional breakdown, the resources made available have not been utilised properly by Afghan government. Reviewing the progress achieved through the peace jirga, he said that its weakness has been not to include North Waziristan Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami in talks. He welcomed the decision to hold smaller jirgas. He believed that to normalise situation in Afghanistan, it was important that US and NATO forces announced a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan and soldiers from Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia could be brought in.


Participants of the roundtable discussion asked many incisive questions from the panel. Members from the Youth Parliament Pakistan, another project being run by PILDAT, pointed out that it was a folly to still talk of reviving the institution of Political Agent when the only way forward was more democracy for these areas and their inclusion in the mainstream. They believed that Pakistanís foreign policy towards Afghanistan has been the forte of a narrow military mindset. As a result of this, despite Pakistanís sacrifices in hosting the refugees and supporting Afghanistan, the relations between two countries seem to be going from bad to worse. The young leaders called for a broad-based political review of Pakistanís Afghan policy. They criticised the peace jirga by saying that jirgas are held by two warring factions, which in this case were US and Taliban and other warring groups in Afghanistan. Instead the peace jirga was held between the stooges of US and the Pakistani government. They believed that people-to-people contact was certainly important but reiterated that a broad-based institutional review of the policy by the Parliament of Pakistan was an urgent need of the hour.