Afghans embarking on homeward journey amid uncertainty

by Delawar Jan

 PESHAWAR: Haji Khan is worried about his brother who ended his refugee status in Pakistan to begin another journey as a homeless person in Afghanistan. His brother’s native Gardez being in grip of insurgency, the choice is to settle in Khost in tents.

“This is an unwise and irrational decision. He failed to tell us what led him to leave Pakistan,” Haji Khan said while fidgeting in anger standing beside the trucks being loaded with returning families and their belongings at voluntary repatriation centre in Chamkani near here. “I am not going to leave Pakistan until I am thrown out,” he declared as he explained how happy he had been in this country for the last 33 years.

 As his brother was busy in the process of his de-registration, Haji Khan who lives in Khaki area in Mansehra district said he was concerned for his brother’s life. “Gardez is still a troubled region. He cannot go there. He has no house in Khost where he is going,” he said.

 Pressure mounted on Afghan refugees to return by December 31, 2012 as an agreement among United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Pakistan and Afghanistan is expiring on December 31, 2012. According to UNHCR, 1.64 million Afghan refugees are still living in Pakistan while 3.8 million have been repatriated since 2002.

 Sultan Muhammad’s last few hours of his 25 years’ stay in Pakistan were consumed in the process of de-registration. Though he was uncertain as to what he would do for a living in Afghanistan, he said his economic condition in Pakistan was no better. It was evident from his appearance. Wearing plastic slippers, he was in rags.

 Sultan Muhammad, who came to Pakistan unmarried, is now returning with a wife and nine children. He knows security, economic and weather conditions in Afghanistan were unfriendly. He knows he has no house in Afghanistan. He is clear that nobody is forcing him to leave Pakistan. “But we have to go back anyway, so it’s better now,” he said without showing any emotion.

 At a distance from him were two cousins sitting on a bench. They were waiting for the completion of their documents with a bittersweet feeling. “I was born and raised here. I have all my friends in Pakistan and am now going to leave them. I will miss them,” said 16-year old Ayub Khan, who lived in Haripur. “I will even not recognise our neighbours in Afghanistan,” he added. The teenager, however, said he was happy to return to his own country.

 His cousin Wali Khan said they wouldn’t be able to go to his native Kunduz because of violence. His family will settle in Jalalabad, Nangarhar’s capital considered to be relatively peaceful.

 “I will be missing cricket, but will try to resume it there,” said 7th grader, Abidullah, who was going to Afghanistan for the first time.

 Haji Alladad may be the only Afghan refugee who had spent 40 years in Pakistan. The man who now wears a small grey beard claimed his family came much before the refugees streamed into Pakistan. “I was born here,” he said.

 Hundreds of thousands of Afghans spent decades in Pakistan in the hope that their country would finally return to peace. Even today, Afghans are unsure what will happen post-2014, the year of foreign forces’ withdrawal. Officials say hundreds of thousands of Afghans have come again to Pakistan with no legal documents.

 Around one million illegal Afghan immigrants, according to Imran Zeb, joint secretary Safron ministry, were living in Pakistan. The government, he said, would decide on December 7 how to handle the illegal immigrants.

 The UNHCR which is facilitating voluntary repatriation at Chamkani, Timergara and Quetta says repatriation is picking up. Around 70,000 have returned home this year showing a surge in repatriation. 

 “The repatriation has increased by 38 per cent if we compare it to the same period last year,” Qaiser Afridi, UNHCR’s spokesperson in Pakistan, said. The number of families returning on weekly basis has witnessed a surge, he added.

 He said returning refugees were offered $150 per head, limited transport and non-food items that include jerry cans, buckets, soap, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, blankets, cooking set, plastic tarpaulins, quilts, sanitary kit and winter clothes. He added the offer would be valid till December 31.

 Raidi Gul revved up engine of his loaded truck before leaving for a long journey. He said he was preparing to embark on a 7-8 hours journey from Peshawar to Jalalabad. “We charge Rs31,500 as fare,” he said, sitting behind the steering of the decorated truck. As the truck rumbled on the pebble-covered ground, the returning refugees waved to bid farewell to Pakistan.


Understanding our neighbor!

Islamabad/Kabul: Why do we feel the need to understand our neighbor? We can’t choose our neighbors, can we? No, I don’t think so. What we can do is, to have good relationship with our next-door neighbors and live happily ever after. *Fairytale style

Can you tell, who is a Pakistani and who is an Afghan? Ayesha and Farkhonda.

Who wants to live in a place where one is always suspicious about the role of his/her neighbor. Oh, my neighbor blocks my water pipe. My neighbor is planning to bomb my house. My neighbor is stinky. Who wants to live a life like that? Stop ranting about your neighbor Pakistan and Afghanistan! Stop it! Life is not a Hollywood film and we are not James Bond. You can’t air lift your country and take it somewhere else and choose your neighbors.

Let’s have the courage and give voice to your complaints and tell your neighbors, how you feel about them. You don’t have to hide it from them that you don’t like them. You never know, how pissed they are at you. It is possible that you are annoying them more than they annoy you. Come to think of it, everything is possible.

Margaret Mead, the renowned anthropologist said that to understand ‘others’ we have to understand them with ‘others’ point of view not our own point of view. We have to leave our pre-conceived notions, myth, stereotypes and biases and understand others with an open heart and mind, without judging them for what they are and most importantly, what they are not.


We are very happy that we achieved this goal. The 22 journalists from both side of the Durand Line are the living example of what we achieved in two-phase project, FES-Af-Pak Journalists Exchange Program: Understanding the Neighbor.  They will make the world understand the Af-Pak relation with their new understanding. They are ready to challenge the decades old established narratives about their neighbors- the narratives that are missing in the public sphere. I am very happy while writing this that these journos are no more neighbors, they happily call each other friends now. Mission accomplished!

Kabul Rocks! We will come again:)

Author: Annie Zaman

Afghanistan emerges as new job market for Pakistanis by Delawar Jan

KABUL: Afghanistan is emerging an unlikely new job market for Pakistanis as the number of the youth who are employed in the war-torn country crossed 100,000, officials here say.
“Around 100,000 Pakistanis are working in Afghanistan as chartered accountants, bankers, teachers, engineers, doctors and labourers,” said Muhammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan. He said the Pakistani workers were preferred for hiring because of their skills and experience. He revealed that $2.6 billion official exports to the country, which makes it the biggest exporter to Afghanistan, had created 3.5 million jobs in Pakistan.
The Pakistanis who work in Kabul suggested that the number of the workers in Afghanistan was well over 100,000. “The ambassador might be talking of the workers having official record. I think a good number of unregistered Pakistanis have also been working in Afghanistan which is in addition to the 100,000,” said Afzal Ahmad, manager at a food company.
The Pakistanis said they had taken up jobs in the war-struck country due to the saturated job market in Pakistan. Many of those interviewed said handsome salaries in Afghanistan had enticed them to seek job in the country that has been a theatre of a long war.
However, the number of Afghans who have been getting economic benefits from Pakistan dwarfs the total of Pakistani workers in Afghanistan. Muhammad Sadiq said 56,000 Afghans crossed into Pakistan every day for different needs including jobs. Around three million refugees who have jobs or businesses aren’t part of this count.
Daud Badshah, a resident of Shergarh in Mardan district, said he was underpaid in Pakistan. “A measly Rs4,000 salary was offered to me by NHA which was insufficient for the needs of my family,” said Sher Badshah, whose father is a watchman at a factory in Shergarh.
The 26-year-old man, who could study only up to 9th class, works for 14 hours daily (7am-9pm) at a restaurant in Kabul where he supervises a staff of 35 people and is able to make good money. “I am getting Rs16,380 (Af.9,000), plus the tip,” he said. “My family tried to stop me from taking up the job in Afghanistan but my poor economic conditions forced me to come here. Four years later, the pressure continues,” he added.
Sher Badshah’s job encouraged his brother Sardar Badshah to come to Afghanistan in search of a job. Now, he gets a salary of 500 US dollars as a cook.“Afghan police harass us despite the fact that we have visas. They demand bribe and misbehave with us. But people here are nice and respectful,” he said.
At the same restaurant, Muhammad Ayaz from Peshawar and Muhammad Ali from Skardu receive salary of Rs23,660 (Af.13,000) and Rs30,940 (Af.17,000), respectively.
Waqar Ahmad came from Peshawar to Kabul in 2007 to find a job. Now he is holding an executive position in a company for the last almost six years and gets an undisclosed ‘handsome’ salary. “The road that winds through the troubled areas into Pakistan is very dangerous,” he said. “I have seen bombs exploding in front of me. I have seen Taliban blocking the road and checking. I have been caught up in crossfire. But thanks God, I have remained unscathed each time,” he said of the threats.

Originally published in The News International on 19th October 2012

Palatial mansion: Pakistan’s biggest and busiest diplomatic mission

By Robin Fernandez

KABUL: Situated in the Karte Parwan neighbourhood of Kabul is Pakistan’s diplomatic mission. Steeped in history, the embassy building and the adjoining ambassador’s residence together form the country’s single biggest mission in the world – a frontispiece to our public diplomacy abroad.

Inaugurated in July 2012, the sprawling grounds of the Quaid-e-Azam Complex cover more than 26 acres of land that once belonged to the British Legation in Kabul. Today it may well be Pakistan’s busiest diplomatic mission.

On any week day (from Sunday to Thursday) one is likely to find thousands of Afghans queuing up outside the Pakistan Embassy for a visa. “Up to 12,000 multiple [entry] visas are issued every day. Not a single application has been rejected so far,” says Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq. This figure may seem high, according to officials, but it pales in comparison to the sheer number of people who make border crossings every day between the two countries. Currently, Pakistani officials say, 56,000 people travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan through both designated and undesignated crossing points daily — mainly for trade and business purposes.

The main embassy buildings are now housed in what used to be the dispensary of the British Legation buildings in the Afghan capital. In one corner of the premises, English-language and computer classes are held for Afghan students, especially those in the neighborhood. “The classes are free and are part of the embassy’s effort to encourage education,” says an official.

The next door residential complex of the ambassador is much grander, still reflecting the colonial glory that Lord George Curzon, the then foreign secretary, had wanted Britain’s top envoy in Kabul to have. Curzon, also a former viceroy general of India, did not live to see the majestic Legation structure, dying two years before its completion. The Legation buildings in Kabul sprang up some eight years after Britain signed the 1919 Treaty of Rawalpindi which officially recognised the independence of Afghanistan.

Though Pakistan’s right to the Legation buildings’ ownership was recognised by the early 1960s, Islamabad had to wait three more decades for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to finally accede to its possession. But the property did not pass into Pakistan’s hands until another decade and a half. By that time it had already been ransacked by a violent mob and suffered a vicious arson attack. Several buildings, including a church and smaller residences, were razed to the ground. Perhaps the only building that escaped harm was the clock tower that stands near one of the boundary walls.

When Ambassador Sadiq moved into the gleaming white palatial building this year following a massive renovation of the premises, President Hamid Karzai took a gentle swipe at the envoy. “I see you have moved into your vice-regal seat,” Karzai was quoted as telling Sadiq.

The entire building was reconstructed in a record time. “Despite the huge challenge, it took us about six months to restore the complex,” a Pakistan Embassy official said. Another official said the funds saved through the [earlier used] Wazir Akbar Khan mission were spent on the restoration work. “We used that money for restoration and saved thousands of dollars in the bargain,” the official explained.

From the vantage point of the ambassador’s residence, one can see a freshly-manicured cricket ground and an equally impressive soccer pitch. And in the distance one can see the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains. The sight would have certainly pleased Curzon no end.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd,  2012.

Pak-Afghan future inter-linked

by Bari Baloch

Originally published in The Nation on 12th October 2012

KABUL: After destruction of many years Afghanistan particularly its
capital Kabul is fast developing which could be gauged from the lofty
buildings, roads, educational institutions, hospitals and media
The decades long war and oppressive regime of Taliban had destroyed
almost entire Afghanistan, its infrastructure, educational
institutions, hospitals and above all millions of Afghan people were
killed while millions of others migrated to neighboring countries such
as Pakistan and Iran.
Kabul which is the heartbeat of Afghanistan, centre of politics,
commerce and culture was also badly affected not only in Taliban
regime but also during Soviet aggression.
When Taliban regime was eliminated by United States and it allies in
2001 a new ray of hope created amongst the people of Afghanistan to
rebuild their war-torn country with the help of world community.
Besides, US, European Union and other countries, Pakistan being
neighboring and sharing 2600 km long border with Afghanistan showed
commitment to play a role in the rebuilding and reconstruction of
Since last many years Pakistan has begin a number of development
projects in various parts of Afghanistan particularly in education,
health and construction of roads. Pakistan is providing $ 330 million
for building of educational and health institutions, and communication
infrastructure of Afghanistan.
“Pakistan is playing an important role in the development of
Afghanistan since a stable Afghanistan was vital for stable Pakistan,”
says Muhammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul.
He said some 5,200 Afghans crossed the border into Pakistan everyday
in 2009 for business, jobs, medical treatment, education and to visit
relatives. “This was significant increase over a year ago when 44,000
Afghans traversed the border daily. Pakistan issues more visas to
Afghans than the rest of the world combined and Pakistan does not
charge any visa fee from Afghan passport holders,” he said.
He said that due to Pakistan’s longstanding policy on educating Afghan
nationals some 30,000 Afghans had attended Pakistan universities and
colleges in last three decades. “Today, 6,000 afghan students are
enrolled in Pakistan’s colleges and universities while half a million
Afghan refugee children attend schools in Pakistan.
Pakistan has constructed many educational institutions, including
Allama Iqbal Faculty of Humanities at Kabul University costing $ 10
million was completed in 2009, Rahman Baba High School in Kabul
costing $ 4 million. Some educational institutions have been also
constructed in Balkh, Kandahar, Wardak, Baghlan and Herat.
“We have always more expectations from Pakistan to do more
particularly in the education sector,” says Fawzia Koofi, a member of
Afghan parliament, adding that we knew Pakistan had its own problems
but not much had been done in development of Afghanistan on the part
of Pakistan which could be visible.
“In Afghanistan which has been in war for the last decade, there are a
lot of hopes from Pakistan especially in education and health
sectors,” she added.
Over 80 per cent of Afghans seek medical treatment in Pakistan
particularly in the hospitals of Balochistan in Quetta and Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa in Peshawar.
Pakistan is playing a significant role in building healthcare
infrastructure in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.
Similarly,  Nishtar Kidney Centre was built in Jalalabad at a cost of
$ 7 million.
Another main project in health sector is Jinnah Hospital of 400 beds
in Kabul worth $ 20 million was completed in 2011. A 200-bed hospital
was constructed in Logar at the cost of $ 20 million.
One of the shining examples of Pakistani cooperation with Afghanistan
is the construction of a 75 km long road linking Torkham with
Jalalabad Road at a cost of $ 34.42 million.
“Our neighbours are very important for us for developing this region.
Pakistan has played a role in constructing the Torkham-Jalalabad
Road,” says Sediq Sediqi, spokesman of Afghanistan’s Interior
Sediqi said that development in education and health sectors was
crucial but most important for them was security and counterterrorism.
“There is a need of strong will among people in both the countries to
help each other like when there was earthquake and flood in Pakistan,
Afghan government was among the first to help Pakistanis,” he added.
Sediqi said there were conflicts in this region especially between
Pakistan and Afghanistan and it is sad that after so many years we
have not been able to find a solution to our common problems.
Notwithstanding that Pakistan is playing a key role in putting back
Afghanistan on the track of development, there are a lot of issues
that need to be resolved which are creating a gulf between the two
“We know the people across the border love us and we love them too.
But Pakistan is responsible for uprisings in Afghanistan and its
destruction,” says Ahmed Zia Neekbin, a professor in Kabul University.
Prof. Neekbin said that Pakistan should respect “our borders and
completely wind up its interference in Afghanistan” and should prove
to be “a responsible neighbour”.
Over 100,000 Pakistanis hailing from different sectors mainly
labourers are working across Afghanistan particularly in Kabul and
playing a significant role in the reconstruction of Kabul and other
cities of the country.
Officially, the trade volume between Pakistan and Afghanistan stands
at $ 2.6 billion while informal trade is estimated at more than $ 2
billion which is creating over 3.4 million jobs in Pakistan.
Afghanistan is a tremendous market for Pakistani economy as it allows
Pakistani goods and products to be widely available.
Political analysts on both sides of the border believe that peace is
essential for the regional prosperity and Pakistan, being a developed
country, as compared to Afghanistan, should play a significant role in
the process of development of their Afghan brothers

Afghan govt condemns Imran’s jihad comment

by Ayesha Hasan


Originally published in The Express Tribune on 13th October 2012


KABUL: The reverberations of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan’s political gaffe are being felt across the Durand Line.

The Afghan government has strongly condemned the PTI chief for his statement, said Farhad Azimi, deputy secretary of the Afghan parliament while talking to The Express Tribune.

“This is clear interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. We urge the Pakistani government to arrest people who support the Taliban,” Azimi said. Imran, while visiting child activist Malala Yousafzai in Peshawar on Thursday, had termed the ongoing war in Afghanistan against foreign troops ‘jihad.’

Azimi said Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet members of parliament in a regular session on Saturday (today) to discuss the issue.

He is likely to issue some directions in this regard, Azimi said.

 Political slogan

Veteran journalist and political analyst Fahim Dashti said this is not the first time Imran has given such a ‘negative’ statement about Afghanistan.

“It is a political slogan through which Khan wants to gain more support. Clearly this is neither fair nor logical,” Dashti said.

Those who consider terrorism a threat would never support Khan in this stance, Dashti said, adding “even if they are supporting him, he will lose them slowly.”

He said the Afghan people had high expectations from Imran when the PTI emerged as a strong political entity, but he proved to be a conventional politician.

‘Imran supported by Taliban’

“The war in Afghanistan is not jihad. This is a war by terrorists against Afghanistan, its people and the entire international community,” said Hamid Zazai, managing director of Mediothek, an Afghan-German NGO.

He alleged that Khan is receiving support from the Taliban, and that by making such statements, he is just “paving the way for stronger Taliban support than what he is enjoying now.’

Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2012.

Pakistan sees itself sincere in stabilising Afghanistan by Nasir Ahmad Waqif & Beensih Javed

ISLAMABAD: “Pakistan is willing to facilitate peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan, but is waiting for Afghanistan and Qatar to clear the way for the talks,” said a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, who wish not be named. “Afghan and Qatari officials are working on setting up a Taliban office in Qatar and on rules for the talks,” the official added.

Kabul has been urging Islamabad since long to put pressure on the Taliban to force them to come to the negotiating table. Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Muhammad Umar Doudzai said Afghanistan expects serious and timely steps from Pakistan to facilitate the reconciliation process with the Taliban.

“We have no doubt that Pakistan is seriously interested to see a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, but we are still waiting to see results of Pakistan’s efforts.”

Since two years various governments are trying to push the Taliban to agree to peace talks, but no significant results have been achieved so far. However, Pakistani diplomats reject the often heard accusation from Afghan politicians that Islamabad is responsible for the slow pace of peace talks.

The official of Pakistan’s foreign ministry pointed out that Pakistan is not a main party in this process and thus it can only play the role of a facilitator.

Mullah Baradar, a powerful Taliban military chief, was arrested in Karachi.

“The last core group meeting two months ago between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US was significant in this regard,” said the official. The core group decided to provide safe passage to all Taliban who want to negotiate and their names would be removed from the UN sanction list in case they travel to a third country, the official added.

The official confirmed the frequent assertions by the Pakistani government that it does not want a destabilised Afghanistan after foreign troops leave the country at the end of 2014. Therefore, the official said that Pakistan would support all peace talks, whether they are in Qatar or Saudi Arabia, with one condition: “They must be lead by Afghanistan.”

Afghan Political Analyst Ahmad Saeed blames Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for not putting enough pressure on Taliban. Saeed, who is a former Afghan diplomat to Pakistan, said, “Reaching regional peace and stability is only possible when Pakistan’s intelligence agencies put pressure on Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table.”

Pakistan is often blamed for killing militants who are willing to negotiate with the government of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. A retired general and leading defence analyst, Talat Masood, suspects that there might be some elements in Pakistan’s military establishment and government who oppose the reconciliation process.

But overall, he said there is “a clear consensus among Pakistan’s government and military that Pakistan is interested in a peaceful Afghanistan, which would lead to a prosperous Pakistan”.

Another issue that strains the relationship between the two neighbouring countries is cross-border terrorism. Ambassador Doudzai is getting impatient with Pakistan’s perceived inactivity on the issue. “Pakistan can do much to control cross-border terrorism,” he claimed.

However, Pakistan claims that it is challenging to control cross-border attacks. The militants have sanctuaries on each side of the border, Pakistani officials point out, adding that on both sides they are not being nurtured by the governments, thereby refusing to accept any blame put on them from Kabul.

The official of Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that political stability in Afghanistan is an important factor for security and economic development in Pakistan. If instability in Afghanistan prevails, “it will trickle down to Pakistan and a government in Kabul ruled by Taliban would influence extremist elements in the tribal belt.” The official feared that this could create a huge problem for Pakistan.

A stabilised Afghanistan on the other hand would give Pakistan access to Central Asian markets. Projects such as TAPI gas pipeline to transport Tajik gas through Afghanistan and Pakistan up to India, or CASA 1000, which will urgently fulfil energy needs of Pakistan, are depending on Afghan stability.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Ayaz Wazir, presents a solution to the current problem. He believes that Afghanistan’s neighbours, Pakistan and Iran, have great influence in Afghanistan, and together with the US, if these three countries compromise a bit on their interests, they can come up with a sincere plan for Afghanistan. This will ultimately lead to a successful reconciliation process with the Taliban, he believes, and reduce the cross border tensions.

Beenish Javed, 28, is a reporter based in Islamabad and works for ARY News. Nasir Ahmad Waqif, 27, is a reporter with Al-Jazeera TV and is based in Kunduz, Afghanistan. This report was written during the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung AF-PAK fellowship 2012 in collaboration with The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2012.

A Day in Kabul by Raza Rumi

Originally published in The Friday Times

As we landed in Kabul, the place was familiar, unfamiliar. The city reminded me of Quetta for its locale and topography and cultural diversity. But then for many Pakistanis, Afghanistan is a remote figment of imagination. A place which has sent many refugees and where Pakistan directly and indirectly has been part of violent conflict and political upheavals for the last thirty years.

We were part of a delegation, which accompanied the beleaguered Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on his first foreign trip. That this trip was made to Afghanistan is a significant reminder of the importance that Pakistan attaches to the country both for the conventional strategic reasons and perhaps for the existential dilemma that the country faces now with multiple brands of extremists on both sides of the Durand line.

Kabul, once a happening place in the 1970s, is now a sorry reminder of its past. Whereas the recent years’ development efforts are visible through a housing boom and new apartment blocks, one cannot miss out on the mud houses and infrastructure deficits that are a direct result of what the world has done to this country. The world has treated it as an arena of war, conflict and pandering to ‘national’ jingoistic egos.

Be it the Soviet Union, the United States, or the self-appointed guardians of Islamic faith i.e. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, each country has contributed to where the Afghans are today. Little wonder that the younger Afghans have grown up resenting Pakistan – its immediate neighbour that has not once but twice been a party to US’ imperial games in the region. Who said that the Great Game was over? In fact its newest manifestation is the age that we live in and where terms such as ‘energy corridor’, ‘stability’ and ‘regional players’ denote the simple fact that no one is willing to leave the country alone and there might be yet another scramble for influence, leverage and gains. All I hope is that the Afghan youth, its vibrant civil society and skilled diaspora will negotiate with the world not to repeat what has been happening in the past.

The high powered Pakistani contingent was in Kabul to achieve several things: some symbolic, some substantive. The day began with the inauguration of the reconstructed Pakistan embassy in an area that is dominated by non-Pashtuns. The earlier building was destroyed during the time when when Pakistan backed Taliban were at loggerheads over the capture of central power. It is some measure of Pakistan’s diplomatic success – especially the untiring efforts of our Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq – that we are engaging with the leaders of erstwhile Northern Alliance, which has now permutated into several political coalitions. The leader of Afghanistan National Front, Ahmad Zia Massoud, who is also the brother of the slain Ahmad Shah Massoud, was present. Others in attendance at the embassy function included Ustad Mohaqiq, leader of the Hazara community, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and even the deputy of General Dostum. All of these leaders vilified by Pakistan’s Urdu press and their puppet masters indicated that for a change we were doing the right thing: By not reducing Afghanistan to the land of Pashtuns or ‘anti-Pakistan’ or ‘pro-India’ Northern Alliance. Ahmad Wali Massoud, Ahmad Zia Massoud is a soft-spoken man and is charismatic like his brother.

While talking to us he emphasized how Pakistan, not unlike Afghanistan, was a victim of extremism and how the two ought to be working together to counter these worrying trends. In fact most of the people present aired similar views in their informal chit chat. This reminded me of the recent declaration that the anti-Taliban forces had signed and released earlier this year: “…any negotiation with the Taliban can only be acceptable, and therefore effective, if all parties to the conflict are involved in the process. The present form of discussions with the Taliban is flawed, as it excludes anti-Taliban Afghans…The present negotiations with the Taliban fail to take into account the risks, sacrifices and legitimate interests of the Afghans who ended the brutal oppression of all Afghans.”

Symbolism always says a lot. Former Prime Minister Gilani had started the work on the reconstruction of the embassy as a small plaque reminded us while the completion and reopening of the building was being undertaken by his successor, another PPP Prime Minister. Ironic that we are always keen to play down the efforts of the civilians including the Foreign Office in the policy process but at the end of the day even Pakistan’s security establishment needs them. The inauguration ceremony took place in the presence of the all-powerful ISI chief Lt Gen Zahir-ul-Islam.

As we departed from the high security zone and passed through the empty roads of Kabul (apparently the traffic was closed to ensure that there was a secure passage of the delegation) one could see how Kabul represents a series of protected zones given the onslaught of Taliban who remain powerful in the South and East of the country.

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In a few minutes we were entering Karzai’s palace, another fortress where layers of security kept the President of the country safe. This is not all too different from Pakistan where the President’s movements are limited and he operates in a highly protected zone. But the palace with its pine, chinar and other old, rare trees is immensely beautiful. Parts of several buildings have been reconstructed given the recent history but one can see the old and new forms of architecture layered on each other.

We waited as the PM, Foreign Minister, Interior Adviser Rahman Malik and DG ISI met President Karzai, visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron and presented themselves before world cameras. Perhaps all sides want to show that there were engaged and this is what diplomacy is all about. Getting conflicting views laid out on a table and finding a common ground and not letting conflict become a means of ironing out such differences.

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Karzai and Raja held detailed parleys while we waited in the annex of the Presidential Palace. I spotted a lovely painting which depicted Afghan musicians at work. The image made me both hopeful and sad. That Afghan were celebrating their culture, the threat of a medieval ideology had to be addressed. Reintegration of Taliban warriors is once again a common challenge for both the countries.

The regal press conference was held under the shade of huge chinar trees and a lovely breeze kept on ruffling the arrangements. Both the leaders were poised and gave a friendly feel to their public appearance. There were tough questions raised from both the sides especially by the AlJazeera correspondent based in Kabul. The latter asked our PM if the civilian government actually controlled the military and ISI. To his credit PM Raja handled this question rather well and displayed his well honed political skills by citing the Pakistani constitution and how it distributed powers. Of course we are miles away from such ideal constitutional governance but to hear this being said in a foreign land made me a little proud. Unlike the Zia and Musharraf eras, which constitute my lived memory, there was a beginning howsoever tenuous the civilian rule might be. Small mercies in a martial state, I told myself.

As we drove back to the airport the posters and iconography around the ‘national’ martyr Ahmad Shah Massoud could not escape my attention. His presence is ubiquitous. How will a 1990s repeat take place under such circumstances? This is what Pakistan needs to reflect and also the Pakistanis who dream of crushing India on Afghan soil to ensure that there is a ‘friendly’ government next door.

It is time that we engage with Afghans as our neighbours, respect their autonomy and also not shy away from talking to our feared adversary India. We cannot stop India from investing in Afghanistan if that is what Afghans want. But we can trade with India and also agree on a common ground. Most importantly, after the repeated tragedies in our Afghan expeditions we should have learned a lesson or two. For instance we may have to focus on the Taliban off-shoots that endanger our way of life at home. Perhaps that should be our top priority.

Raza Rumi is Director Policy & Programs at Jinnah Institute in Islamabad. The views expressed are his own. He is also a consulting editor at TFT. His writings are archived at

‘Pakistan lacks a clear policy against militancy’

Exclusive interview with Author Zahid Hussain by Beenish Javed

Islamabad, July 25, 2012:

Last week, I had an opportunity to meet Zahid Hussain, who is the author of two famous books, Frontline Pakistan and The Struggle with Militant Islam. He has an expert view on Pakistan’s tribal areas and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Q. 2014 is fast approaching, but the world still thinks that Pakistan is not serious in stabilizing Afghanistan. Do you think this perception is correct?

Zahid Hussain (ZH):  This perception is incorrect. It is the responsibility of American and NATO troops on the ground to stabilize Afghanistan. Peace in Afghanistan is largely dependent on the U.S. policy. Would U.S. want to leave a stabilize Afghanistan? And it is possible through a political reconciliation in Afghanistan. A combined political settlement might help in bringing peace.

Q. Everyone has hopes from the reconciliation process. Do you think Pakistan has the potential to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Afghans and the Americans?

ZH: Firstly, we have to see if the U.S. really wants to talk with the Taliban.  The   negotiations have been stalled from last six months. The process depends on both the Taliban and the U.S.  I think it’s incorrect to say that Pakistan can convince Taliban to talk because it’s wrong to think that the Taliban will ultimately do what Pakistan asks them to do.

Q. Is the government and the military of Pakistan taking steps to bring peace in Afghanistan?

ZH: The differences between Pakistan and the U.S are an obstacle in bringing peace in Afghanistan. And if the relations between the two countries don’t improve than it would be difficult to achieve a political settlement in Afghanistan. It is not only the responsibility of Pakistan to make efforts to improve relations with the U.S. The U.S should also try to address the issues that are the cause of the differences between two countries. And with the continuation of drone attacks , peace is difficult to achieve in this region.

Q. Do you think there is a consensus in Pakistan’s military about fighting the terrorist groups?

ZH:  Pakistan has suffered the most from militancy and a big reason for that is we do not have a clear policy against militancy. We don’t understand how to deal with this problem which is a big threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty.  Terrorists are now all over Pakistan. Militancy has not reduced from last few months we see an increase in attacks by the militants. It is high time that we devise a national policy against the militants as they are a big threat to Pakistan’s existence.  The interview can be viewed by clicking on the following link.

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Bleak fate of civilians on both sides of Durand Line by Shah Zaman Khan / Abdul Mateen Sarfaraz

ISLAMABAD / KABUL: Eyes brimming with tears, 50-year-old Zakirullah Mamond of Sarakai, a small village in Bajaur Agency, uttered these poignant and disconcerting words, “Our lives do not serve any real cause other than to be part of collateral damage.”

On June 16 last year, militants attacked three villages of Sarakai, Mokha and Manro Jangal which are situated on the Durand Line, about 60 km west of Khar, the agency headquarters. In this attack Zakir lost his wife, son and sister. Brushing away tears he said, “I don’t care, whether it was Pakistan, Afghanistan or Nato who fired the rocket. All I know is that it destroyed my loving family.”

Locals are caught up between fighting forces from all directions.

The latest of the series of cross-border attacks took place in Upper Dir, in which 13 soldiers on patrol were killed.

Mamond is not alone in sharing this bleak fate. As per reports, 703 innocent people have been killed in different acts of terror during the first quarter of 2012. Of this tally, most casualties occurred in incidents of cross-border aggression, including firing and drone strikes.

Forces of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nato are engaged in operations against militants on the Durand Line. The locals are not only being killed in crossfire from one side, but are sandwiched between the fighting forces from all directions.

In phases of heightened acrimony between the states, militancy is seen to increase proportionally. Senior journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai says, “The issue of cross-border infiltration of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban has become a major irritant in the Pak-Afghan relations.” Since both sides have failed to stop the Taliban effectively, they are constantly busy in a blame game against each other.

The prevention of cross-border raids necessitates that solid steps be taken by both Kabul and Islamabad. First, the allies—Pakistan and the US—need to remove trust deficit and engage the security forces effectively on both sides of the divide.

“Trust between the intelligence agencies of each state, CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), KHAD (Khidmate Ettelat-e Dawlati) and ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) should be established. All stakeholders should be given a chance to take part in dialogue with Taliban,” a senior Peshawar-based journalist Shamim Shahid said.

Governor of Kunar province (Afghanistan) Fazlullah Wahidi admits that Pakistan is not behind incidents of cross-border attacks. However, he said it is hard to convince Afghans living in the border areas who believe that some factions of Taliban enjoy Pakistan backing.

Yousafzai believes that the blame game would serve no constructive purpose, other than to exacerbate the existing tension. “Until and unless Afghanistan and Pakistan trust each other, the cross-border aggression will continue to haunt the security forces and people alike,” he said. Furthermore, Yousafzai holds the allied forces responsible for abetting Taliban’s cross-border activities. He said, “Pakistan has the highest number of check posts on its side, while the US forces in Afghanistan have set up only a 100 border posts. More check posts on both sides should be established to check militant penetration.”

Some political observers also believe that movement without visa restriction on either side of the border has increased the infiltration.

The tear-brimmed gazes of many civilians are fixated on policy-makers, who are too detached from the locals to grasp how the violence is taxing innocent lives. It seems like many more civilians will suffer Mamond’s fate, before the higher-ups are finally prodded awake.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2012.