Pakistan and Afghanistan: Blueprint for a shared destiny

The momentum of history is unmistakably pushing the two countries into a closer orbit.
Published 30 Sep, 2020 03:39pm

As Pakistan welcomes Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, on his visit to the country for the first time in over a decade, the region finds itself at a point of inflection. Intra-Afghan negotiations have commenced, raising guarded hopes for an end to 19 years of unrelenting conflict. Save for a few spoilers, the international community has rallied behind Pakistan’s long standing conviction that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and that dialogue and reconciliation offer the only way forward.

This conviction and its internalisation by the world community have produced outcomes that were unthinkable even a few years ago. Therefore today, despite the continuing challenges and obstacles to peace, a consensual blueprint for the way forward exists, that can sooner, rather than later, deliver the stability that has eluded Afghanistan for long.

Vicissitudes in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations have through the years mirrored the instability in their common neighbourhood. With high levels of violence, proliferation of non-state actors, acting often at the behest of outside powers, illicit cross-border activities, ungoverned spaces, permeable borders, and large displaced populations, friendship between the two countries has often been hostage to the protracted turmoil.

Mistrust, grievances and misgivings abound, despite a strong realisation that Pakistan and Afghanistan are essential to each other’s survival and prosperity; that geography has bound them into an inseparable embrace, and that their destinies intersect in myriad ways.

Admittedly, both countries have in the past, advertently or inadvertently, stumbled onto the minefield of geopolitics and gotten hurt. Both are grappling with the daunting challenges of development. History bears ample testimony to how insecurity in one has invariably ricocheted to cause instability in the other, thereby undermining development prospects of both. This is one manifestation of the deep and organic connect between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and also signifies how this linkage is central to the current state of affairs and future prospects for the region.

As Afghan leaders get down to the onerous, yet essential task of ironing out a comprehensive political settlement, and Pakistan continues to assist as part of a shared responsibility, this is an opportune moment to chart out the blueprint of a future equation, more attuned to the needs of the two nations, and the realities on the ground, rather than the agendas of distant capitals. This blueprint must learn from and take into account the abundant lessons of the past 40 years.

Every relationship must pivot to some principles. To allay apprehensions and dissipate misgivings, it is important that these principles are continually reaffirmed, and then followed in letter and spirit. The foundational principle for any future partnership must be acceptance of the self-evident truth that Pakistan and Afghanistan are two sovereign, independent nations having reciprocal rights and obligations that must deal with one another on the footing of equality, non-interference and common benefit. Harbouring self-defeating, irredentist or interventionist ambitions by either country would prove, as it has in the past, disingenuous and eventually counter-productive. Upon this fundamental premise must be built the edifice of elaborate cooperation to extend to one another mutual and reciprocal support to sustain common security.

Economic interdependency exerts a tremendous gravitational pull. The two nations are already among each other’s largest trading partners. Their geographies certainly complement one another. Pakistan gives Afghanistan a foothold to the sea, and Afghanistan accords Pakistan reach to Central Asia. The dream of establishing and operating trans-regional corridors of transport and energy has often been frustrated by competing regional and extra-regional interests, as well as protracted disputes in South Asia. This must not prevent the two countries from utilising practicable avenues, including the Belt and Road Initiative, and its flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. With Gwadar fast coming up as a transit hub, Afghanistan’s maritime accessibility options are set to multiply manifold.

Other low-hanging fruit can also be pursued to the benefit of the two economies. Pakistan and Afghanistan could promote bilateral investments by extending national treatment and according special incentives to investors. Businesses could be facilitated in establishing outlets. Pakistan could assist Afghan authorities in revenue generation and expanding and streamlining the revenue stream. It is not difficult to envision a future Pakistan-Afghanistan Customs Union, and Common Market, that acts as a catalyst for prosperity across the length and breadth of both countries.

Complementing the trade and investment relationship must be a robust framework for licit population movements. Return of peace and stability in Afghanistan must include as a principle, a well-resourced, dignified, and voluntary return of Afghan refugees. This must follow then, the institution of policies whereby nationals of the two countries are able to easily and more freely access each other’s job markets, live and work in the two countries and travel seamlessly for business, leisure, health and education on the basis of a more liberal and streamlined visa regime.

The momentum of history is unmistakably pushing the two countries into a closer orbit. Approaching the situation with a clear and pragmatic vision, coherent thought and action, cognition of history and a consistent application of principle will help both countries redeem the lost years, and extricate themselves from the tragic cycle of death, destruction and violence that has consumed them for decades.


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Syed Abrar Hussain is a retired career diplomat and has served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Kuwait and Nepal.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (21) Closed

M. Saeed
Sep 30, 2020 03:44pm
The talks must find feet to walk.
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Zeeshan Ahmed
Sep 30, 2020 04:22pm
Afghan government officials at the senior level make their income from narcotics.
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Sep 30, 2020 04:31pm
Pakistan's perseverance in the face of constant mischief mongering by hateful India has paid off.
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Sep 30, 2020 04:31pm
And we say again, Bravo skipper!
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Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad
Sep 30, 2020 04:50pm
United we stand, divided we fall.
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Pak Patriot
Sep 30, 2020 04:58pm
Kudos ! To our Foreign Office and Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, our Foreign Policy is Scoring " BIG HITS " recently. This is the way to move forward, establish Peace with our neighbours, Trade and Trade and Develop rapidly, creating jobs for our youth. Pakistan will rise up, if we succeede in increasing our Middle Class.
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Sha b
Sep 30, 2020 05:34pm
@Fastrack, yes ..otherwise Fatf will take care.
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Dr. Habib A. Zuberi
Sep 30, 2020 06:40pm
This is one of the best articles I have read in a very long time. What is good for Afghanistan is good for Pakistan and vice verse.Don't waste resources to put each other down. Join to make lives of people in both countries good. There are close religious, ethenic and cultural ties among the people of these two countries. Better to be together rather against each other.
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Sep 30, 2020 07:40pm
Pakistan and Afghanistan need to put their differences behind and capitalise on the commonalities between the two countries. Being prosperous and powerful is all that matter for nations in the long run.
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Sep 30, 2020 08:47pm
In the changing world, Pakistan is playing its part as a regional power of South Asia and forming a new block with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey linked to all of Central Asia, Russia and China. The coming century belongs to this block.
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Kusmo Dar
Sep 30, 2020 09:03pm
@Zak, hilarious, now Afghanistan is included in this ‘block’!
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Sep 30, 2020 09:55pm
@Sha b, Modi must be so disappointed
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Marquis de Sade
Sep 30, 2020 10:10pm
@Zeeshan Ahmed, that is more honest than stealing from your own people.
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Marquis de Sade
Sep 30, 2020 10:11pm
"shared future"? Afghanistan wants to go bankrupt?
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Oct 01, 2020 01:37am
Some amount of vested interest involved here. It took Pakistan 20 years to reverse a decision made by Musharraf to join the peace process now
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Oct 01, 2020 01:59am
Keep Dreaming. Dreams do come true once in a while.
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Oct 01, 2020 02:58am
@Zak, massive, total and complete victory for Pakistan and this group.
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Imtiaz Ali Khan
Oct 01, 2020 05:23am
Millions of Afghan have relatives in Pakistan same goes for Pakistan. Not to forget millions of Afghans living in Pakistan. Many have never seen Afghanistan either they have been in Pakistan all their lives.
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Oct 01, 2020 07:57am
Both countries beautiful countries. Both countries best in the world to respect other religions.
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Skeptic 1
Oct 01, 2020 09:01am
What a joiner!
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Amir Habib
Oct 01, 2020 09:02am
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