By Hamid Khan Wazir
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Speakers at the 2nd Pakistan Afghanistan Civil Society Conference on Exploring Approaches for Regional Peace and Stability stressed the need that Pakistan and Afghanistan can only eliminate the threats jeopardizing regional security and foster economic cooperation and connectivity through a collective approach and joint strategy.
The conference was organized by the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in collaboration with its Afghan partner Organization for Economic Studies and Peace (OESP) here on Thursday.
The dialogue was attended by prominent civil society stakeholders from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to discuss pressing issues and potential approaches oriented towards solutions.
Despite ongoing border closures, the dialogue demonstrated a commitment to cooperation and move in the right direction.
The participants emphasized that in the interest of trade and people-to-people relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the region at large, the socio-economic life should be insulated from political disputes.
They said that while the informal actors of diplomacy may not have the mandate to solve the problems of bilateral or regional concern, they can still generate actionable recommendations and develop joint proposals necessary to inform the policy actors inside the formal channels of diplomacy and reach a solution.
The participants of the dialogue emphasized the importance of addressing security threats posed by groups like Al-Qaeda, TTP, and IS to the entire region. They stressed the need for a joint strategy – with regional approach at its core – to counter these proxy terrorist organizations.
While acknowledging the tension in Chitral as a serious security challenge, the forum recognized the need to understand the mentalities of these extremist groups to be able to cope with them and encouraged diplomatic engagement to resolve issues, instead of media allegations and blame game.
They stated that there was consensus on the need for a collective approach to address extremist threats in the region. Participants highlighted the importance of reciprocal and equal relationships between nations.
The issue of refugees and their treatment was also discussed, acknowledging its impact on trust and mistrust between the two countries. The dialogue emphasized the importance of insulating social-economic life from unresolved issues and putting contentious matters on the back burner. Indigenous peacebuilding frameworks were also encouraged.
In the session on economic cooperation, participants highlighted the importance of economic prosperity, trade, and border stability while stressing that economic cooperation should not be affected by political or security issues.
Issues related to smuggling, sudden border closures, and the need to build trust within the business community were discussed. The collaboration between small businesses and indigenous people was seen as a way to create stakes and promote peace.
Participants recognized the importance of cooperating and strengthening relations with Afghanistan, even in the absence of full recognition of the Taliban-led government.
Participants emphasized the need to address educational and women’s rights issues in Afghanistan, suggesting that these should be seen in the context of the economic and developmental needs of Afghanistan. They noted that the issue of Afghan girls’ education must not be left to a chance but conscious efforts to change the status quo.
The restrictions on girls’ education are not reflective of the aspirations of the Afghan populace. The international community must step up and deliver on the promises made to Afghan girls and women.
The dialogue concluded with a focus on the need for continued engagement and cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the interest of regional economic connectivity.