Afghanistan is preparing for the withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces in or before 2014. In addition, the country is preparing to hold presidential elections in April 2014. If the election process is perceived to be transparent and accepted by all parties involved, Afghan President Hamid Karzai would have made unprecedented history by having political power transferred democratically and peacefully to the next presidential hopeful.
Afghans’ hopes for a peaceful transition are high; they are also determined to continue building on their country’s unprecedented achievements, namely political freedom, access to education, and private sector development. However, Afghans and their government still need to do more both unilaterally and in collaboration with the international community to keep the momentum going.
One major concern Afghans anticipate is maintaining sincere support from Pakistan. Afghans see this as a challenge considering the history of Af-Pak relations, and the two distinct “Pakistan’s” Afghans have experienced so far.
The Pakistan Afghanistan Knows
One is a Pakistan that is kind and cooperative. Millions of Afghans sought refuge in Pakistan after the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. These Afghans in Pakistan received good education, even had their own schools and universities, developed successful businesses, and had an equal access to health and recreation facilities there. Many have also learned the popular cricket game there.
Some of these Afghans form the intellectual cadre in present Afghanistan. They are well-educated; positive thinkers, and driven to make a positive difference in Afghan society. Afghans appreciate the sincere cooperation of Pakistan for these favors in those difficult days. Karzai usually refers to this Pakistan as a “brother.” Many Afghans would want to build on those good memories and positive contributions to Afghan’s development; they would also to strengthen their deep-rooted cultural and religious ties with its Muslim neighbor.
However, Afghans also know another Pakistan that they find difficult to work with on mutual cooperation policy. Kabul would blame this Pakistan for some of the issues it faces today. Pakistan would reject those accusations and may blame Afghanistan for their contemporary problems. This “mistrust” persists.
The bilateral or multilateral efforts to build trust usually fail. This is evident from analyzing the unhopeful results of the various confidence building processes, such as the Istanbul Process mediated by Turkey, the efforts of the Afghan Peace Council on seeking Pakistani cooperation in supporting the peace process in Afghanistan, and other many efforts held through the mediation of the US, the UK, and other power brokers. Karzai usually appears frustrated after such negotiations end.
If there isn’t a turn over and honest effort on both sides towards creating trust and agreement in building real confidence, the Af-Pak relations may strain benefiting neither Afghans nor the Pakistani people. In turn, security, peace and stability would remain an elusive concept in the region.
Communication with fellow Afghans and Pakistani friends reveal that none want such a disheartening situation.
Instead of the two Pakistans Afghans have experienced so far, the Afghan people seek a “one” cooperative neighbor that understands and supports the Afghans’ desire and strides towards peace, stability and prosperity after decades of difficulties in Afghanistan. Afghans should also realize the desire for peace and concerns of the Pakistani people on the other side of the Durand line. Both neighbors should work towards a relation that roots out classic development threats, such as poverty and unemployment, which are the principle causes of violence and suffering in the region.
As the date of the parliamentary election in Pakistan is scheduled for May 11, 2013, Afghans hope fellow Pakistanis will seek a government that recognizes the need for having lasting peace and stability on both sides of the Durand Line. In addition, the new government is hoped to lead reconciliation efforts, plays a crucial and sincere part in ending the insecurity in the region and supports Afghan’s strides towards stability and self-reliance post 2014.
Establishing lasting peace and stability that enables prosperity in the Af-Pak region should be business of the people and their policy makers living in the Islamic republic of Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It should not require the need for military presence of others living hundreds of miles away.