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Afghan Peace Process and role of Pakistan

Asfandiyar Khan

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Afghan peace process denote to both negotiations and proposals in a bid to end the ongoing war in Afghanistan. A lot of and efforts have taken place since the war began in 2001. Negotiations and peace talks intensified in 2008 amid talks between the Taliban, which is the main insurgent group fighting against the Afghan-government and American troops. Probably there are 20,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan that support the existence Afghan-government. The existence Afghan-government refers to Northern Alliance; now all the Afghan government officials and cabinet ministers are from Northern Alliance. Northern Alliance were “Ahmad sha Masood” guerrilla group which had fought against the Soviet Union occupation during 1980, s. After Soviet Union collapsed in 1990s “Ahmad Sha Masood” became a good and trustful ally of America. Because of America support “Masood” made a government in Afghanistan. Then in 1996 Taliban came into power (1996-2001) under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Omar. They considered themselves as an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. But one of the tragic accidents 9/11 came that changed the whole world. America attack on Afghanistan and overthrown the Taliban government. After Taliban a “de facto” government came in Afghanistan by American support; which was mainly Northern Alliance. Now after a long 19 years’ war America have realized that war is not the solution. Since 2001, this era is constituted by three American presidents: George Bush, Barak Obama, and President Donald Trump. President Barak Obama administration wants to end the ongoing war in Afghanistan. They were ready to any thing just to end the war, but they didn’t succeed in its plans. Now Trump administration are very eager to end the war peacefully but there are some complexities in the peace process (Cool, 1979-2001).

There are three parties in negotiations or in peace talks: America, Taliban, and the existence Afghan-government. The peace process is going between the Taliban and America but the problem is that Taliban don’t want to talk the Afghan-government. They consider them as a puppet government and consider themselves as a government in exile. Most of the talks happened in Doha, the capital of Qatar. It is expected that a mutual agreement between the Taliban and the United States of America would be followed by a phased American withdrawal and the start of the intra-Afghan peace talks.

Main Hurdles in the Afghan-Peace Process

If we observed the present scenario of Afghan peace-process we will understood that there are only two parties’ dialogues one is Taliban and the other is United States of America. Taliban don’t consider the existence Afghan government as a stakeholder. Taliban claimed that this government is an American puppet government we don’t consider it as a government; we will talk directly with the United States. Afghan government are very eager to be a part of peace talks, they also want peace and stability in Afghanistan but unfortunately what they want they cannot do that.

The second phenomenon is the Afghan Peace process is trust-deficit. America and Taliban have its own demands, Taliban is mainly concern with that American and its ally forces should withdraw from the soil of Afghanistan. Taliban said that withdrawal of U.S. and its ally forces the talks can go further in a positive direction. In this scenario America also wants guarantee from Taliban; America urge that Taliban should to break with Al-Qaeda, and to prevent international terrorist organization on the Afghan soil and not to use Afghan soil for terrorists’ groups as a safe haven. So, the circumstances are that each party could not trust fully on each other. One of the former acting directors of C.I.A. skeptical about U.S. Taliban peace talks. They said that Taliban have no intention of negotiation in good faith they rely on to get foreign troops out of the country. If the United States withdraw from Afghanistan the Taliban will take over and Al-Qaeda would come back, Taliban would let them come back, they will be starting plotting against us. Relationship of Al-Qaeda and Taliban is deep they have fought side by side for 18 years, they are blood brothers (U.S. should not withdraw from Afghanistan ).

One of the core and most important issue of the political peace process agreement is the Freedom of Speech, Education, and Women rights that is practiced in Afghanistan under is its constitution; under Taliban rule, such rights were suppressed. According to “Zalmay Khalilzad”, “President Ashraf Ghani”, and CEO Abdullah Abdullah and other senior officials these rights are being highly important and they should not be sacrificed in a peace agreement. According to Afghan Taliban spokesman “Sohail Shaheen” (BBC interview) this is Afghan-government that are trying to jeopardize the talks; they supporting ISIS. Further they said that we guarantee Women Education and other rights under the Islamic Principles.

Official Talks, Negotiation and Advocators of Afghan Peace process

The former President Hamid Karzai was the first man who advocated the peace talks as well as British and government of Pakistan but was rejected by the American government. In September 2007 President Hamid Karzai offered peace talks with Taliban but that was swiftly rejected by the insurgent’s groups citing the presence of foreign troops. During presidential election of 2009 there was broad agreement in Afghanistan that war should end, but how it should happen was a major issue for the candidates of 2009. In that election Hamid Karzai was reelected; when they reelected as a president of Afghanistan they called on “our Taliban brothers to come home and embrace their land” and laid plans to launch a “Loya Jirga” but that efforts were undermined by Obama administration to increase troops in the country (Cool, Directorate s, 2001-2018).

Abdul Ghani Baradar (the Taliban co-founder and then second in command) who favored talks with the U.S. and Afghan government. In February 2010, Baradar was captured in joined US-Pakistan raid in the city of Karachi in Pakistan. Karzai administration reportedly held talks with Baradar just before his arrest which infuriated the Afghan President and invoke suspicions that he was seized because the Pakistani intelligence was opposed to Afghan peace talks. In June 2010 Afghan peace Jirga took place, however the Taliban did not attend the conference.

In 2010 a change of mindset and strategy occurred in the Obama administration they allow possible political negotiations just to end the war. Again, and again Taliban refused to talk to the Afghan government, they portraying them as an American “Puppet”. Since 2018 intensity has been caught in talks, President Ashraf Ghani on February 27, 2018 announced at an international conference in Kabul a bold peace process proposal to last with unconditional peace talks with the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani also recognized and offered Taliban as a legal political party and the release of Taliban prisoners. To facilitate inter-Afghan peace talks Zalmay Khalilzad joined the Trump administration to end the war; on September 5, 2018 Zalmay Khalil joined the U.S. state department as President Donald Trump special advisor on Afghanistan.  The peace talks took place in Qatar between Taliban and the U.S. envoy led by Khalilzad on October 12, 2018. In November 2018 Russia also hosted a separate peace talks between Taliban and official from Afghanistan high peace council. One of the important peace talk round taken place in Qatar on February 25, 2019 between President special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Barader. Zalmay khalilzad reported that this round of negotiation was more productive that they have been in the past. They reported that a draft version of a peace agreement had been agreed upon. The withdrawal of U.S. and international troops from Afghanistan are included in the agreement; the Taliban completed an eight round of talks. According to the Washington post the U.S. was closing to reaching a peace deal with the Taliban and was preparing to withdraw 5000 troops from Afghanistan in the first phase. Special envoy to the President of the United States for Afghanistan   Zalmay Khalilzad stated in September that an agreement has been reached by the U.S. and the Taliban and the final approval is pending by the president but that time President Donald Trump stated that he canceled peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders after an attack in Kabul that killed an American soldiers and 11 people. The Taliban wondered and on September 18, 2019 the Taliban stated that their doors are open” President Donald Trump should resume the peace talks in the future either wise its consequences will be very bad (Afghaniustan peace Talks , 2020).

In this whole scenario the role of Pakistan is as a facilitator not as a negotiator; the role of facilitator is more suitable than as a negotiator to Pakistan either wise it will create problem. The strategic location of Pakistan is very important; due its geographic location Pakistan are playing very important role in this region. In peace talks between Taliban and United States Pakistan are the main stakeholder; the first priority of Pakistan is making a peaceful Afghanistan because the peace and prosperity of Pakistan is profoundly concerned to a peaceful Afghanistan. Without maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan there will be no chances of peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.  The Durand line is 2,640km border between Pakistan and Afghanistan; this is very lengthy border, to control the whole border is very tough and impossible that’s why terrorists infiltrated from Afghanistan into Pakistan and spoiling peace in Pakistan. Pakistan as a responsible state are playing very active and important role in the peace deal between Taliban and America; because this is very related to peace and stability of Pakistan.

To end the eighteenth years’ war in Afghanistan, on February 29,2020 an agreement signed between Taliban and United states, but there are still many factors could still disrupt the peace process.  Both sides are very eager to end a lengthy more than eighteenth years’ war. A very intensive efforts taken from both sides. The main them of the agreement is to drawdown of the U.S. and its allies’ forces from Afghanistan and guarantees form the Taliban that the country will not become a safe haven for terrorists.  The deal is a first step towards achieving a lasting peace in Afghanistan. The trouble and the biggest challenge are now negotiating an agreement between the “Islamic fundamentalist group” and the Afghan government on Afghanistan’s future. Some experts say that U.S. withdrawal could spark new conflict(a civil war) in Afghanistan and eventually allow the Taliban to regain control.

On the negotiation table negotiators signed agreement on four main issues in the nine rounds of discussion in February 2020.

Cease-fire. Negotiators agreed to a temporary reduction in violence and said that a lasting ceasefire among U.S., Taliban and Afghan forces will be part of intra-Afghan negotiation.

Withdrawal of foreign forces. The united states agreed to reduce its number of troops in the country from roughly 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days. If the Taliban following through on its commitments, all U.S., and all other forces will leave Afghanistan within fourteen months. Experts have cautioned that pulling troops out too quickly could be destabilizing Afghanistan more and more.

Intra-Afghan negotiations. The Taliban agreed to start peace talks with the Afghan government in March 2020. Throughout the negotiation process, the Taliban had resisted direct talks with the government, calling it an American puppet. But the Taliban has more recently indicated that talks are possible, with the deputy Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani writings in a New York Times.

Counterterrorism assurances. The United States invade Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, attacks largely to eliminate the threat of terrorism, so it seeks to halt terrorist activities in the country, including by Al-Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic state.  As part of the agreement, the Taliban guaranteed that Afghanistan will not be used by any of its members, others individuals, or terrorists’ groups to threaten the security of the united states and its allies.

Now the main problem to the peace process is “Power Sharing” disarming and reintegrating Taliban fighters into society and determining the future of the country’s democratic institution and constitution. The united states and the Taliban agreed to the release of up to five thousand Taliban prisoners in exchange for up to one thousand Afghan security forces, but the Afghan government said it had not committed to such a swap. 

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South Asia

The U.S Lauded Pakistan’s Assistance in Fighting COVID-19

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The United States has thanked Pakistan for its donation of protective gear and surgical masks to support the fight against coronavirus. In a Tweet, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appreciated Pakistan’s goodwill donation of surgical masks and protective suits to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said this delivery is a symbol of Pak-US solidarity in the fight against COVID-19 and termed it a “partnership for the prosperity of the two countries.”

Meanwhile, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, in her tweet, also expressed gratitude to Pakistan for the goodwill donation. She said our countries’ health partnership and the coordinated response would help defeat this virus and rebuild our prosperity.

Earlier, the consignment of Personal Protective Equipment from Pakistan via a C-130 flight from Islamabad landed at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. The equipment was also handed over to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency for onward delivery to the US armed forces.

Pakistan values its Seven Decades-long friendship with the US.  Although, it is meager Medical Supplies, yet as a token of friendships values a lot. Pakistan is also facing a huge challenge of the outbreak, and the rapid growth is alarming in Pakistan. Nevertheless, Pakistan is a responsible nation and always willing to share its part of responsibility in any part of the World. Either it is a natural disaster or warlike disaster, Pakistan always played its role on the front line as a volunteer. Pakistan is a country with the highest number of philanthropists per million population.

The US was one of the few first countries that recognized Pakistan in 1947 after getting independence from British rule. Pakistan was a close ally with the US in the cold war era and the Afghan War. Pakistan was a frontline ally with the US in its War on terror. Pakistan enjoyed non-NATO close ally status. Definitely, Pakistan was also beneficiary of US AID and assistance. Either it was on Economic front, or S&T, Defense or Education, Military or civilian, Agriculture or Industry, almost all areas witnessed the US assistance in the past. The US is a major trading partner with Pakistan too.

Pakistan has no objection if the US changed its priorities and aligned itself with India. The US is aiming to strengthen India to counter China, but India used all of the American assistance to counter Pakistan. The US may keep balance and restrict its assistance to India to a condition not to use against Pakistan. There can be designed a monitoring and tracking system to check that American assistance is not used against Pakistan directly or indirectly. A close monitoring system may be deployed on India and verifiable by any third party. I believe “there is the way if there is a will.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan is a visionary leader and peace-loving in nature. His declared-policy  to be a partner in peace with any country in any part of the World is well appreciated widely. Pakistan was a victim of the Afghan War for the last four decades and learned a bitter lesson. War means disaster; War means a net loss of human lives and economy; War means no victory for either side. Pakistan will be no longer partner wth any one in War with any country.

Pakistan’s strategic location, where it connects almost half of the World and at the major trade route – Middle-East to rest of the World, is vital for maintaining peace and stability of this region as well as the whole World. Pakistan is a nation of 220 Million, with its 70% population of youth under the age of 40 years. Pakistan is a resilient nation and can survive under any circumstances.

Pakistan wanted to keep traditional friendship with the US and strongly wish an early resumption. Pakistan wanted to contribute its potential to global peace and stability. In the past, especially in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Pakistan kept close alliance with the US while maintaining its strategic relations with China. I hope the US may not object to Pakistan’s strategic interest with China or Russia while restoring traditional friendship with Pakistan.

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South Asia

The Need for Pakistan’s Digitalisation Policy

Syeda Dhanak Hashmi

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Change is the only constant and one has to keep evolving through new trends in order to compete with the changing dynamics of the world. There is no denying the fact that any country’s economic growth is now directly linked to one factor i.e., adoption of information and communications technology. The adoption of digitalisation is the new reality where majority of population has access to mobile phones and internet than to basic necessities of life. Digitalisation is not a choice, it is the need of the hour, therefore, the governments are now determining their policies and strategies for digitalising every sector, to promote and strengthen their socio-economic fabric.

Keeping in view the current scenario, the COVID-19 has had a major impact on almost all socio-economic sectors, the digital world has never been more important than it is today, Digitalisation is the new normal where consumers are buying everything online whether it is to buy groceries and essentials or to socialise and virtually reach with friends and family. During this critical time, many of these adoptions will persist long even after the situation has stabilised.

Globally countries are adopting new ways through digitalisation to ease the life of their citizens by providing them with improved and rapid amenities. The access to free internet services made it possible to pave the way for effective digitalization. An exponential increase is observed in the number of internet providers and consumers which demonstrates that the world is adapting with the concept of digitalization. It is witnessed that the developed countries has already shifted all their services from the outdated ways to online portals to facilitate the masses. In recent years, Pakistan is also evolving its IT sector promptly by introducing the latest technological mechanisms in the country.

The present government has taken up the task to digitalize the entire country and is working hard to create an e-governance system to bring down corruption, to ensure accountability process and also to augment the productivity in the country. The government has been taking great strides in the advancement of technology- from the Mohafiz app to digitizing the Postal service and the introduction of Tax Asaan mobile app which provides taxpayers with quick access of verification features like active Taxpayers list (ATL), NTN/STRN inquiry and exemption certificate etc. and many more. The PTI government has been proactive in the inclusion of technology within various segments and has also launched the online FIR system where people can submit their complaints online, and will be facilitated by government officials.

Nevertheless one might assume that digitalisation and government don’t blend,but in reality this fusion is helping the government agencies and officials to represent their agendas and administrative progress directly to the people through social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.).Perhaps the defined role of government social media accounts is to serve as a source of unrestricted updates. This includes everything from present initiatives to upcoming policy reforms and breaking news. Therefore, news should be a foundation of your content strategy as a government account. For instance, we are currently seeing social media crisis management in action for government organisations, including real-time updates in response to COVID-19. This illustrates that social media actually serves as a first hand source of information and provides people with timely updates. This is the brilliance of digitalisation and government that the voters and opposition are already there and the government has only one job that is to publish content which engages the attention from the public. This also suggests educating your followers by clarifying potential misinformation, keeping in view the fact that how quickly fabricated content can spread through social media, the government accounts serve as an important source for authentic information.

Statically, as per Pakistan’s Digital2020 Report, Feb 2020: there were 76.38 million internet users in Pakistan in January 2020 which illustrates that the number of internet users has increased by 11 million (+17%) between 2019 and 2020 and internet penetration in Pakistan stood at 35%. As far as the social media users in Pakistan are concerned, the number has increased by 2.4 million (+7.0%) between April 2019 and January 2020 which shows that there were 37.00 million social media users in Pakistan in January 2020 and the penetration rate stood at 17%.The source of this penetration depends widely on mobile connections in Pakistan. Reportedly, there were 164.9 million mobile connections in Pakistan in January 2020. The number of mobile connections increased by 9.6 million (+6.2%) between January 2019 and January 2020. Surprisingly, the number of mobile connections in Pakistan was equivalent to 75% of the total population in January, 2020.

With these growth trends projected to persist in the future, Pakistan is dire need of a comprehensive ‘Digitalisation Policy’. There should be a policy that must be implemented in its true spirits, and the government should devise an efficient monitoring mechanism to evaluate the vitality of that policy.

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South Asia

South Asia: A COVID-19 Outlier?

Noor Aftab

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International observers remain baffled at the rate of spread and impact of Corona on one of the most populous regions in the world. South Asia is home to more than a 5th of the world’s population. As is the case with other trends related to Corona, it is still not clear why the virus did not see the surge in the region that was experienced in other parts of the globe.

South Asia had been deemed as the perfect hotbed for the Coronavirus. It is densely populated, has poor public health institutions, and is geographically close to China, where the virus originated. Its people are also affected by severe levels of poverty, malnutrition, and hunger. While the countries share a similar heritage, the region happens to be one of the most poorly connected in the world, owing to bad road networks and toxic bilateral relations between some of the countries.

Despite strict guidelines from respective governments, social distancing norms are incompatible with South Asian society. It is a privilege only the elite can afford, as a vast majority of the people live in close proximity with their family members. The region also comprises of fairly religious societies, and governments have faced challenges in the prevention of congregational worship. In Pakistan, Khan was severely criticized for allowing communal prayer during the month of Ramadan.

It can be argued that the relatively lower numbers can be accounted for by low testing rates but if the health care systems in these countries had been choking up, it would have been very difficult to hide.

India, the economic giant in the region, can boast of imposing the strictest lockdown in the world. While the fatality rate is increasing with every passing day, the number of deaths is nowhere near that of Europe or the US. Migrant workers paid a heavy price for the lockdown, which was announced without prior notice, leaving millions displaced. The economic cost of the lockdown has been astounding, as an estimated 122 million Indians lost their jobs in April alone. India’s unemployment rate is now at a record peak of 27.1%,

Similarly, in Bangladesh, researchers from Dhaka University predict that around 15 million people from different sectors will become unemployed in the country due to slowdown of businesses. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Asad Umar, predicted that around 18 million people might lose their jobs as a result of the lockdown.

Modi and Khan have recently eased lockdowns in India and Pakistan respectively, in spite of increasing cases, as they expressed concern for low-income groups and daily wage earners in their countries. Their concerns regarding their economies may be well-founded. According to a recent Yale study, social distancing measures may be more effective in saving lives in higher-income countries. Whereas, in lower-income countries a complete lockdown may be counterproductive, significantly increasing the economic costs. Economic benefits generated by social distancing are estimated to be 240 times larger for the United States, or 70 times larger for Germany, compared to the value created in Pakistan. The value of savings would be 59% of the GDP for the US, 85% of the GDP for Germany as opposed to 14% of Bangladesh and 19% of India’s GDP.

There are several theories about the conservative spread of the virus in South Asia. None of them have been substantiated as yet. It could be that the pandemic was taken more seriously in these developing economies because there was an acceptance of the fact that they weren’t well equipped to deal with the crisis in case it hit them with full force. Some experts credit the warmer and humid climate of the region to have kept the spread of the disease in check. Others are talking about the protection offered to South Asians by the vaccine for Tuberculosis, BCG and possibly a weaker strain of the virus in this region.

One of the more plausible explanations for this trend seems to be the extremely young population of the region. The average age of an Indian is 26.8 years. The number is less than 25 years in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. In contrast, the average age of a citizen is 45 in Italy and above 40 in Germany, France and the UK. According to the Yale study, Populations in rich countries tend to skew older, and so the mortality rate is expected to be higher in those countries, in spite of the disparity in healthcare capacity.

According to Jacob John, a virologist from India, it is not sensible to compare the situation in South Asia with Europe yet, as the region is over a month behind in terms of timeline. Therefore, the April of Europe should be compared to June in India. The epidemic is developing in different countries at different rates and it has not yet reached its full maturity in the region.

There is little doubt about the fact that Covid-19 represents one of the greatest challenges for global leaders of our times. Policy has to evolve constantly according to the trajectory of the virus in the concerned country. The choice between lives and livelihoods can never be an easy one to make.

While it’s too soon to declare any country’s approach a success, it can be acknowledged that South Asian countries enforced stringent lockdowns at a relatively early stage compared to many in the West. However, locking down for over a month hasn’t necessarily slowed down the spread of the disease and the reversal of restrictions could lead to spikes in rates of infections. This in tandem with increasing economic constraints makes it a complex dilemma for policymakers. As the virus is yet to peak in the region in the coming months, the real challenge for the leadership lies in expanding their capacity to deal with the worsening situation.

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