Press Release – One day International Conference (Working Session 1 ) “Perspectives on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan”

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Press Release
One day CAMEA (ISSI) -FES International Conference
Working Session 1
“Perspectives on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan”
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 (FES) 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, Honourable Shah Farman, Governor KPK and General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. 

The first working session was titled the ‘Evolving Political Situation in Afghanistan’ which  was moderated by Ms Amina Khan, Director CAMEA. The distinguished speakers in the session were: Sardar Nadir Naim, Chairman, Kabul Institute for Peace (KIP); Mr. Rupert Stone, Independent Journalist ; Dr. Alexander A. Kornilov, Prof. Dr. at Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod, Head of Region Studies of Foreign Countries ; Mr. Adam Weinstein, Research Fellow, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and Dr. Vladimir Paramonov, Researcher at the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan.

Sardar Nadir Naim stated that Afghanistan has always been a victim of its own geopolitical location. Every time foreign occupiers have left Afghanistan, it has left the country with a trail of devastation. He said that the premature collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s government within the backdrop of the withdrawal of US forces has left Afghanistan at the edge of a humanitarian disaster. He shed light on some of the issues that need to be seriously addressed; which include, prevention of state failure and the continuation of aid flow without discontinuation, removal of sanctions – which are hurting the Afghan people the most- and the unfreezing of Afghanistan’s assets. Apart from these, there is a mutually agreed mapping for a road to political recognition regionally and internationally. Taliban should  in their part fulfill the promises regarding inclusivity and legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people. Speaking about Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, he said Pakistan’s shift to geo-economics could pave the way for new opportunities in the bilateral relationship. Both countries are strategically placed in the crossroads of Asia. For instance, a new energy corridor is a wonderful opportunity for both countries to be working on, as  they share common strategic challenges such as regional security and drug smuggling.  With the rise of China in Asia as the future economic hub,  Pakistan and Afghanistan would do well to align themselves. He was of the view that  it is really important for Pakistan and Afghanistan to co-exist in peace  and work towards a robust trade agreement. Issues such as climate change, water security should be addressed as well. Both countries need to be looking towards building bridges of trust in order to fulfill their full potential in the crossroads of Asia. He concluded by saying that  civil society  on both sides can play a very important role in trust building. 

Mr Rupert Stone talked about the illicit trade in Afghanistan since the Taliban came into power. He highlighted how narcotics are a concern not only for regional countries, including Pakistan, but also for Europe, as a vast majority of the heroin on European streets originates in Afghanistan. He said that while evidence points to rising drug production in Afghanistan, the same is true for trafficking, which appears to be booming along various long-established trafficking highways such as the Balkan-Route through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey to Europe. He said that it is almost inconceivable that the Taliban will stamp out drugs in present circumstances and even if they did, it might create new problems for European governments, exacerbating poverty, hunger and the exodus of people out of Afghanistan. The solution to Afghanistan’s drug crisis is not prohibition per se, but long-term economic development that will give Afghans opportunities other than drug production and trafficking. European states should provide aid to help facilitate this outcome, he concluded.

Mr Adam Weinsten focused on the role of the international community and in particular  the US, in the evolving political situation in Afghanistan. He said that we have to approach the political situation in Afghanistan going forward by learning some of the lessons of the past, particularly during the last twenty years. The US coalition did not pay enough attention to the cultural and ground dynamics in Afghanistan.  He further said that there needs to be a talk about sources of legitimacy in Afghanistan. Another mistake the international community made and is still making is that it has underestimated the Taliban’s resilience and cohesion and there needs to be an end in wasting time focusing on a potential split in the Taliban movement and instead deal with the Taliban as they exist. The trends which have existed throughout Afghanistan’s history have been ignored. A stubbornness and lack of compromise in the international community is apparent and is a  primary barrier to progress going forward. These include the Taliban’s position, especially concerning Al-Qaeda and women’s rights and the approach  to diplomacy in a transactional way by the International community, particularly the US and a change in Afghanistan’s ranking when it comes to global priorities. The Taliban have missed an incredible opportunity since according to a World Bank report , primary school attendance has actually increased in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover primarily because security has increased. However, there is a decrease in secondary attendance because of the Taliban imposed ban. For two decades, Afghanistan had an outsized place in international discussions of foreign policy. The reality is that Afghanistan is no longer a priority. Hence, the international community needs to be more realistic about the pace of change and progress in Afghanistan. It is absolutely crucial to restore faith in Afghanistan’s banking sector and keep the Afghan economy from falling apart. We need to think long-term with regards to Afghanistan.  Disengagement will benefit nobody and will always be the wrong decision, he concluded.

During his remarks, Dr Paramonov raised the question of whether security or economy should be a priority for Afghanistan. Even though theoretically both approaches are deemed equally crucial, in the western-centric traditional approach security and politics come first. However, this he deemed as the wrong approach. With regards to his country, Uzbekistan, he pointed out that for Tashkent the priority is now increasing economic linkages with not only Central Asian states but with South Asia as well. The key notions are Afghanistan is vital for regional connectivity. Economic development and regional integration are crucial for promoting domestic and regional stability. He outlined how the projects under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are the most effective ones. He said Afghanistan needs intellectual help. In this regard, scientific- based projects on key issues  should be discussed. He said that the international community should not over-criticise, over-teach, over-guide the Afghans and instead be more focused on issues of economic development. This will bring peace and prosperity for not only Afghans but the regional countries as well.

Speaking from the Russian point of view , Dr Kornilov stated that in order to help stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, first any transitional government of Afghanistan should represent the whole spectrum of the Afghan society in its ethnic, religious and political diversity. He said Russia remains engaged with the Taliban, and these contacts have been continuing for several years now. Russia is doing this, inter alia, within the expanded troika of Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan. He stressed that an inclusive government, which fully reflects the interests of all ethnic and political forces in the country, is the key to achieving sustainable peace. Second, it is unacceptable that extremism spills over into neighbouring countries, and the terrorist threat must not persist on Afghan soil. Third, he said that the development of national education, public healthcare and other socially important areas, especially with very limited funds, certainly requires vigorous efforts but considerable funds remain to be frozen in international banks. It is time to mobilize the resources of the international community for efficient financial, economic and humanitarian aid, in part, with a view to preventing a humanitarian crisis and stopping migrant flows.  In the Moscow format consultations on Afghanistan in Moscow, he said that President Putin attributes high importance to this mechanism and considers it one of the most valuable ones in helping bring stability to Afghanistan. On Russia-Pakistan relations, he said that Russian diplomats have confirmed that they are actively interacting with Pakistan on the Afghan agenda both on the bilateral level and as part of multilateral mechanisms such as the “expanded trio” (Russia, China, the US and Pakistan) and the Moscow consultations format on Afghanistan. “We consider Pakistan one of the key regional players with great influence on the developments in Afghanistan”, he concluded.