Press Release – One day International Conference (Inauguration Session) “Perspectives on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan”

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Press Release

One day CAMEA (ISSI) -FES International Conference
“Perspectives on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan”

(Inauguration Session)
28 March, 2022

The Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa (CAMEA) at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI) held an International Conference titled, “Perspectives on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan”, in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung on March 28, 2022. The speakers in the inaugural session included, Ms. Amina Khan, Director CAMEA, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General ISSI, Dr. Niels Hegeswisch, Country Director FES, Pakistan. Honourable Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Foreign Minister of Pakistan and General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee were Keynote Speakers and Honourable Shah Farman, Governor KPK was the Chief Guest at the occasion.

Honourable Shah Farman, the Chief Guest at the occasion stated that we need to understand the Afghans better as they feel betrayed. He said that the Afghan Jihad and the Nebraska University syllabus has changed mindsets and so many Afghans have given up their lives and have received nothing in return. Afghans have suffered enough over the decades and this has been the greatest dilemma of this past few decades.  This is a great game which the Afghan people remember very well. Money was spent on wars instead of reconstruction which further alienated the Afghans and the war psychology was converted into a hate phenomenon, which has led to terrorism. He further said that we must think about the Afghan situation and ask the question that are the Afghans responsible for this situation. The global community is responsible and we cannot look at the Afghan situation in seclusion as the world is interconnected, he concluded.

Honourable Shah Mahmood Qureshi, while giving his keynote address stated that the watershed event of August 2021 has changed much in Afghanistan. There are several challenges like weak institutions, a nonexistent economy and a continuing humanitarian crisis and a liquidity crunch. Afghanistan stands at a critical juncture and it is hoped that Afghanistan can move towards a viable solution. He went on to say that the gains can be reversed so we must not allow that to happen and Pakistan has always promoted consistent engagement as the situation has wide ranging impacts on the region and beyond. Besides the immediate need to avert the humanitarian crisis, we need to focus on other aspects he stressed. Pakistan has always and continues to strive for a peaceful neighborhood and Pakistan is the most important regional player that has always been directly affected by events in Afghanistan and has helped build a regional consensus. Stability in Afghanistan is critical for the region as well as the international community. The Afghan conundrum has far reaching consequences and if not dealt with in time, the country may fall victim to terrorist elements. This can serve as a catalyst for instability in the region and specifically for Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, particularly Pakistan, he concluded.

General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, while giving his keynote address stated that Afghanistan is Afghanistan and must be seen in that context. He went on to explain that the geography and culture of Afghanistan have not changed along with the culture which has remained constant; however, the environment has altered. However, the context has altered as has the construct, which have impacted the political and geopolitical dimension. In the current circumstances, the world’s attention has been diverted from Afghanistan which is not a good development. He went on to say that we have witnessed some substantive changes as we have seen the SCO and OIC dealing with Afghan matters directly and the initial political engagements are more nuanced. Regarding the pledges made at the OIC meeting, he said that it is discouraging to note that not much has been done. Talking about the role of geography in the future of Afghanistan, he said that regional countries will have a greater role in Afghanistan due to regional connectivity, which remains vital to Pakistan as well. Talking about the challenges being faced by Afghanistan, he said that the country struggles with a weak economy as well as hunger and poverty along with an uncertain security situation. Regional engagement remains the best bet and that we must respect the Afghan future and the world must release the blocked funds and consider recognition, he concluded.

Director CAMEA, Amina Khan, at the offset  said that  while there were concerns about lack of female representation, she assured  that  at CAMEA –  an all women’s team  strongly supports and advocates female empowerment and representation  and while the centre  did approach several prominent Afghan women to share their views as speakers, unfortunately for one reason or another they  could not take part in the conference.

While expressing her views stated that circumstances in Afghanistan have drastically evolved and continue to do so since the Taliban came into power followed by the US withdrawal. She said that in the absence of a negotiated settlement, a takeover by the Taliban was certainly expected at some point, however such a quick transition was definitely not anticipated. Even within the confines of the current interim set up, the real test for the Taliban began the day they assumed office, which is by no means limited to securing power, but revolves around legitimacy, acceptance, and performance and of course recognition, she said. Moreover, the group has not only inherited weak institutions but a nonexistent economy and now an ongoing humanitarian crisis and can be called a work in progress. She went on to say that ambivalence surrounding the future of international assistance has strained the Afghan economy. The provision of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by regional countries is certainly reassuring; however, it is not enough to stabilize the economy let alone sustain the Afghan population. If the Taliban are not able to consolidate their position, and ensure some semblance of stability, the fear is not so much of a civil war emanating but rather of transnational terrorist elements taking advantage of the situation and filling the vacuum such as the ISKP, she said. In such circumstances, the Afghan population not only continues to struggle for survival but at the same time becomes vulnerable to transnational terrorist groups, therefore this also calls for the international community to revisit the question of engagement and recognition. Now that the Taliban are in power, it is imperative that they deliver on all accounts, and ensure that they honour their pledges of reform pertaining to governance, human/women rights, a representative political framework  which is not only limited to an inclusive government but rather a diverse and robust opposition.

She concluded by saying that it is vital for the group to realize that if they do not honour their pledges of reform, particularly when it comes to fundamental yet basic issues such as a human rights including education for all; it will lose the support and recognition the group so badly needs from the international community, and more so from regional countries to legitimize their rule.

Director General ISSI, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry in his welcome remarks, highlighted the work of CAMEA at ISSI on the evolving situation in Afghanistan and stressed on the importance of such discussions. He also said that CAMEA has held a series of conversations on the evolving situation in Afghanistan throughout 2021 and this conference is a result of the yearlong focus of the centre on Afghanistan.

Dr. Niels Hegeswisch, Country Director FES, in his remarks stated that we live in a wave of multiple crises and Afghanistan seems like yesterday as we have several other crisis globally. He went on to say that European Union has a responsibility, although there is insecurity in Europe and it must consider what can be its contribution.