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.

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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

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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
outlets.
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
Afghanistan.
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
Ministry.
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
countries.
“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

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 www.razarumi.com