Talking to Afghanistan

Published: December 8, 2014
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

The recent visit by army chief General Raheel Sharif to Afghanistan and the earlier visit by the incoming Afghan president Ashraf Ghani to Islamabad bodes well for relations between the neighbours. We are hopeful that if there is some unanimity of views, as the usual press releases claim, there will be more cooperation between the two countries which will benefit us all.

But there is resentment in Kabul amongst people over the role that the Pakistani state has played in their country. In fact, while Indians and other South Asians are welcomed in most of Afghanistan, Pakistanis are treated with hostility. That is possibly why most Afghan prisons have a number of Pakistan nationals lodged in them – many of whom are suffering on account of trumped up charges.

The Pakistan Embassy can do little to have them freed and it all comes down to goodwill that we can help our fellow nationals to come back home. That goodwill is mostly missing.

The Afghan intelligence agency views Pakistani nationals on the streets of Kabul with suspicion while the Pakistan Embassy warns nationals to stay indoors if and when there is a terrorist attack in any Afghan city. This is a sad state of affairs.

I wonder how things have come to this. In some ways as a Pakistani, I am angry at how the Afghans have forgotten their way in which Pakistan welcomed them with open arms when the Soviets invaded their country in 1979. Pakistan has the distinction of hosting the largest number of refugees in the world – the bulk of them Afghan.

In fact, now that many of them have gone back to their home country, a little bit of Pakistan has gone along with them. Even today in the most remote parts of Afghanistan, you find people speaking Urdu, drinking chai and playing cricket. Why could we not build on that?

Possibly this has to do with our state’s geo-strategic interests which include checking the expansion of Indian interests in Afghanistan. It seems, however, that this policy has come at a heavy cost.

It was interesting, therefore, to listen to the views of some Afghan journalists some time back, in which they told me what they felt was wrong between their country and ours. In the most interesting comparison, they told me that we treated Afghanistan the same way India treats us.

Afghans feel that Pakistanis make no effort to understand them or their country. This is quite true. For one, we call them Afghani (which is the name of their currency) instead of Afghan. And we are quick to stereotype them as people who need us to guide them as if they are incapable of doing it on their own.

Then we blame them as the cause of many of our problems. How many times have I heard Pakistanis blame the Afghan refugees for the drug and Kalashnikov culture in our country – as if this was done exclusively by them and no Pakistani had any role in it.

The Afghans also feel that we are patronizing in our attitude. This again is true. We make no effort to understand their society and its issues and try to prescribe solutions for them. We seem to have everything figured out.

How do we move ahead? To start with, we need to station Pakistani journalists in Afghanistan who can report accurately about that country. From what I understand there is not one full time Pakistani correspondent based there.

Second, we need to start making a serious effort to talk to the Afghans and not sermonize all the time. This includes exchange of ideas and information as well as the visit of delegations and youth groups. Our young people should be dispelled of the notion that everything about Afghanistan is related to terrorism and it is unsafe to go there.

Third, our public and private sector needs to invest more in Afghanistan. Till now we are only trading with them and there are few examples of Pakistani direct investment in Afghanistan. Pakistani businesses will make money but also earn goodwill if we go in now and agree to some joint ventures.

Let us start building bridges. For too long we have been burning them at an altar that we ourselves are confused about. There must be more clarity in our relations with Afghanistan.


Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th,  2014.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • vasan
    Dec 8, 2014 - 6:17AM

    Fair enough.


  • Ali Shah
    Dec 8, 2014 - 9:37AM

    A very good and timely article. Now that I think about it, your article rings absolutely true in my mind.


  • Feroz
    Dec 8, 2014 - 9:56AM

    Sir, you neatly and conveniently overlooked the role played by the Pakistani Establishment which through its proxies has been responsible for the violence suffered by Afghans. Trying to carry out any analysis with one eye firmly shut is more an exercise in escapism. The day Pakistan stands for positivity in intentions and actions rather than duplicitous, its prospects in Pakistan will start improving. Any amount of rhetoric about Indian bad intentions will never work in Afghanistan because they know that India has put money and resources into helping develop Afghanistan, without making any kind of demands. Affection and respect is always earned, it cannot be commanded by military might or spinning of fancy yarns.


  • Dec 8, 2014 - 11:33AM

    spot on!


  • Roshan
    Dec 8, 2014 - 1:00PM

    Something different but real highlighted , These are reasons which produce enmity and demolish the co-ordination. Well Done Sir


  • Fareed
    Dec 8, 2014 - 1:01PM

    Such a brilliant article, It highlights exactly attitude of Pakistanis towards Afghans as well as how Afghans feels and why they are frustrated.

    As mentioned in the article I am annoyed and feel sorry for those innocent Pakistanis that ended up in prison for being Pakistanis (it happens in corrupt countries all over Asia but there is a factor of their nationality that makes them target too and same goes against Afghans in Pakistan)

    I, as an Afghan who never lived in Pakistan am grateful to all those Pakistanis who welcomed Afghan refuges during jahad time in Afghanistan.

    Having said that I am also annoyed when Pakistanis call Afghanistan a puppet country! and blame Afghans for drug and crimes problems in Pakistan, when they mentioned that they hosted millions of Afghan for which they were instead paid and received generous amount of aids from western countries and, they never mention this.

    Currently Pakistani officials demand from Afghanistan government to take action against TTP in Kunar and Nooristan while anti Afghanistan elements are free to roam around in major cities of Pakistan, which is very odd and undermines Pakistans position and honesty – it is up to you how you want to deal with it.

    The point is Pakistanis follow what they are told by their government and some of their medias.

    It would be very beneficial if both countries youth get together and work towards prospering the region. We Afghans will be happy to engage with Pakistanis in different areas for instance we welcome Pakistani singers to perform in Kabul and other major cities, we welcome sport events, we welcome educational cooperation, we welcome trade and other investment etc etc.

    We dont want Pakistan to spend money on our projects but rather understand us and come and work together otherwise the fire that burnt our house, its flames has reached your house too so lets stop it else it will be too late and costly for you to do it alone!


  • Ratnam
    Dec 8, 2014 - 4:14PM

    The author offers good ideas. And they should be implemented. But it will take time for attitudes to change. It took about one generation (from the time of Zia ul Haq) to get where Pakistan is today, and it will take one more generation before things turn around. This is assuming that Pakistan begins today. So, this is a long-haul and requires a lot of patience.

    Whatever Pakistan may accuse India of doing in Afghanistan, and whether it is true of false, one thing can be said for sure: India has invested decades in building good will in Afghanistan. It offered educational facilities to young Afghans, loans, helped with infrastructure projects, etc. Irrespective of whether India was trying to cut out Pakistan, the fact remains that India has worked for the good of the Afghan people. This is the reason why the Afghans trust India more than Pakistan. But it is time to change these perceptions, for the good of all countries in the region.


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 8, 2014 - 8:25PM

    Without any doubt the author is one of the most decent and educated individual who has a natural talent for diplomacy and civilised dialogue among people of different politic or cultures. Ommitted in the article, however, is the history of Afghan people and those who now form the bulk of Pakistan. The people of KPK are the direct cousins of the people across the border whereas bulk of people living in other areas have not only language but cultural divide despite the fact that Lahore was in the domain of Afghanistan while Peshawar was the winter capitol of greater Afghanistan, the policy followed by the Inglez has remained intact. Eversince the creation of Pakistan, it has followed the hostile policy towads the landlocked country keeping Afghans at arms legnth and for a number of misguided geostrategic reasons. India on the other hand did try after partition with success to end the British hostile policy towards Afghanistan and opened up all avenues of cooperation including contacts with the people and province administrations in the field of education and trade and participation in community projects to ease the situation for the people of Afghanistan.
    Pakistan does not need to send military men at the behest of the foreign power, but the journalists as the author suggests and build the bridge with the people of the land which in the future will be the transit country to meet Indo Pakistan energy needs.

    Rex Minor


  • afghan
    Dec 10, 2014 - 10:21AM

    Great article!

    I as an afghan, who is born in pakistan and graduated from islamia college, share the same views with the author of this article.



  • Humza
    Dec 10, 2014 - 11:25AM

    @Feroz: Indians like to harp about the role of Pakistani proxies but they know only too well that India has used Afghanistan as a pliant puppet state since 1947 to launch misadventure against Pakistan. Even former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel pointed out this obvious fact. Successive Afghan governments have been too busy doing India’s bidding and involving itself in cross border intrigue against Pakistan long before the Soviets ever entered the fray. Those of us in KPK know only too well of failed Indian and Afghan plans to foment troubles and the Pashtunistan movement. It failed miserably because the majority saw Indian intrigue and Kabul’s complicity for what it was. Afghan leaders destabilized their own nation in the 1970s especially. A stable Afghanistan and the resettlement of millions of Afghan refugees is in Pakistan’s best interests but this can only happen if Afghan leaders put their own nation and their citizens well being ahead of doing India’s bidding. Rather than look at Pakistani concerns in isolation, you need to ask why have these concerns developed. A stable region is in both Pakistan and Afghanistan’s best interests but until Afghans agree to disgard the disatrous policies of Sardar Daood and others like him, no change will take place in the status quo. India should restrict itself to helping Afghanistan get on its feet but not by using the Afghans as puppets to continue their strategic depth in other countries.


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