CHIEF of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif visited Kabul recently ostensibly to convert the tripartite security arrangement to a bipartisan one in the wake of the drawdown of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) from Afghanistan this year.
According to press reports, issues such as border management, bilateral security arrangements and border surveillance came under discussion during Gen Sharif’s meeting with his counterparts in Kabul. The meeting was held in the presence of Isaf field commanders. This meeting seems to have been significant for several reasons.
Political transitions both to the east and west of Pakistan are important politically, strategically and economically. While India now has a new government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Afghanistan should have a new president by the end of June. Though Pakistan needs to understand developments in both its eastern and western neighbours, it has to give special attention to Afghanistan keeping in view the emerging conditions there.
Afghanistan is passing through a tremendous transition in the political, strategic and economic spheres. It seems the country will see the first-ever peaceful transition from one elected president to another in its history.
Islamabad and Kabul can gain from economic cooperation.
This transition and the drawdown of Isaf forces will have two major implications for Pakistan and Afghanistan. The first pertains to the internal security of both countries. A stable and sovereign Afghanistan would mean that safe havens would be denied to foreign militants inside that country.
For this to happen, the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police need to be well trained and professionally organised. Pakistan can cooperate with Afghanistan in this regard. Moreover, intelligence-sharing, bilateral security agreements and bilateral agreements on border management will be needed on a priority basis. At present, most of the 2,200km Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been ‘outsourced’ to militants.
Cooperation between the two states can only be successful when Pakistan accepts Afghanistan as a sovereign country and desists from supporting proxies fighting in that country. Afghanistan has already been raising the issue of safe havens to the east of the Durand Line, though for the last few years Pakistan has the same complaints regarding Kabul.
If the stability of Afghanistan is compromised, there are ample reasons to believe that eastern and southern Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan, will become the hub of militancy. Terrorism will hit both Pakistan and Afghanistan, though regional and international states will also bear the brunt.
The second and most important implication of the transition in Afghanistan pertains to the economy. A Joint Economic Commission session was held between Pakistan and Afghanistan in February this year. The JEC had pledged to “double their bilateral trade volume from $2.5 billion to $5bn and initiate economic projects of mutual interest”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan had reported.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan can benefit tremendously from mutual economic cooperation. The direct import and export volume between the two countries can be enhanced keeping in view the production of high-quality fruit in Afghanistan and dairy and poultry production in Pakistan. One of the viable industries that Pakistan can help develop and earn foreign exchange from is juice factories. In return, Afghanistan will have employment opportunities for its youth. The manufacturing sector here can have a large slice of the Afghan market given the cheap transportation cost between the two countries.
In the wake of the reconstruction of infrastructure in Afghanistan, most of the building material and personnel can come from Pakistan. Pakistani engineers and contractors can earn a great deal from this trade.
Other important sectors in which both countries can develop projects are medicine and education. Pakistani doctors and pharmaceuticals, besides expertise in hospital management, are in great demand in Afghanistan. Pakistani universities can and must sign memorandums of understanding with universities of Afghanistan in research and faculty development.
Pakistan and Afghanistan can increase their mutual economic and trade volume indirectly through solution of the transit trade problems via Karachi port. In return, Afghanistan can help Pakistan access Central Asia. The economic prospects can be increased only if the issue of the thriving undocumented economy in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan is resolved. For this to happen, an understanding of the security challenges is key.
At present, there are irritants between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the geo-strategic sphere. Cultural and educational diplomacy might be the answer to irritants between the two countries. To start with, exchange programmes of academia, cultural practitioners and media persons can pave the way for mutual understanding.
It is high time the establishments of both countries facilitate each other in becoming sovereign and stable, politically and economically viable states.
The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.
Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2014