Sometimes it is necessary to state the obvious. Sometimes it is necessary to question the obvious. This is essential because our perceptions define the reality for us —– and, in most cases we acquire our perceptions through interaction with the media – all kinds of media – and not our direct interaction with the ground realities.
* * *
It was December 2000. I was in hot, angry debate with Mulla Muttaqi, the then-minister of education in the Taliban government. With every turn in the argument, my voice was rising in anger while he kept his calm. I was frustrated because I was losing the debate. I was frustrated because on the subject being discussed he was approaching from the side of knowledge and I was speaking on the strength of my perceptions alone.
Finally he said, “Would you still bicker in the same way if I were a clean shaven man, dressed in a western style, and my name was Mike Arthur and not Mulla Muttaqi?”
It was a moment of comprehension. With whatever little dignity was left, I conceded that, yes, my perceptions had clouded my ability to discuss the subject logically.
* * *
Marc Brunereau was a great French journalist who made Central Asia his home. He arrived in the region as correspondent for AFP and on completion of his tenure stayed in Tashkent as contributor for the Belgian daily Le Soir.
He was a friend of Ahmed Shah Masood, the main opponent of the Taliban. In 1999, when visiting the city of Taloqan by helicopter, Brunereau was strafed by a low-flying Taliban war plane because they mistook him for Ahmed Shah Masood, mainly because he was of nearly the same height and build and wearing the same kind of jacket.
When I met him in late 1999, he had just gotten back to his feet after months of painful surgery. He was functioning primarily on his willpower because a bullet was still lodged near his spinal cord. It was the same bullet that shifted a few millimeters in 2001 when he was swimming, and caused his death.
Brunereau had all the reasons to hate the Taliban: He had been seriously injured, almost killed, by the Taliban; he was among the western journalists who were favourably disposed toward Masood and his comparatively liberal allies; and his second home, Uzbekistan, was quite allergic to the Taliban and everything they represented.
Whenever we met, we talked about the Taliban. Because of his personal connections with Omar Samad and others in the information sphere from the side of the Northern Alliance of Ahmed Shah Masood, Brunereau was always current on the latest developments in and about Afghanistan.
Every time I was freshly impressed by his ability to cut through the perceptions and look at the naked, raw reality.
He was of the view that the Taliban are a natural expression of the rural Afghanistan. He argued that given the chance to become a part of the Afghan system, the Taliban will mellow down in a decade or so and that would translate into lasting peace. He maintained that defeating the Taliban in the battlefield would be expensive and short lived.
Brunereau was able to keep his perceptions under the discipline of objectivity, look beyond the obvious, and question the obvious.
* * *
Peace in Afghanistan is what everyone needs. To make any sustainable movement toward peace, the prerequisite is to cut through our perceptions, look beyond the obvious and question the obvious.
If some of us call for peace but actually act in a manner that damages the interests of some of the stakeholders, it is a situation of conflict of interest. It is a situation that encroaches on the space that must be available for the peace to take any hold.
* * *
If peace prevails in Afghanistan, one of the main beneficiaries would be Pakistan.
In the past few months Pakistan has taken decisive steps to help build peace in Afghanistan.
In April 2018, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on a seven-point formula for a Joint Action Plan for peace when the-then Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited Kabul and met President Ghani.
In July 2018, the newly elected prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, said in his first address to the nation that he would like to maintain open borders with Afghanistan and create the conditions for the citizens of both the countries to visit each other without the visa.
He had said the same thing in August 2017, nearly a year before the elections that brought him to power.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister in the current government in Pakistan, decided to visit Kabul as his first travel destination after becoming the foreign minister. His visit generated a fresh wave of economic and humanitarian interaction between the two countries.
On 25 October 2018, Pakistan released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was in custody for several years. Mullah Baradar was the co-founder of the Taliban and a close friend of Mulla Omar. He was released on the request of Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan. He is expected to play a key role in speeding up the peace process in Afghanistan.
In two operations against terrorism – Zarb-e-Azb, and Raddul Fasad – conducted at great human and material cost, Pakistan has crushed terrorism on its own soil.
At the height of the Russo-Afghan war, Pakistan was the host to about one-third of the total population of Afghanistan; three million of them as documented refugees and the rest of them undocumented and scattered all over Pakistan. Most of the economic burden of the Afghan refugees was borne by Pakistan from its own sources and the long-term damage caused by them to the environment and ecology of Pakistan will take decades to recover.
Even though border management is a joint responsibility, Pakistan has gone to great lengths to secure its border with Afghanistan. Of the 2430 km border, Pakistan has fenced the crucial patches to prevent illegal movement on either side and the rest of the fencing work is on fast track. This should give a peace of mind to the authorities in Afghanistan.
Forts and border posts are being built at strategic locations and modern methods of surveillance are increasingly being used to obtain the real-time picture of the movements across the border.
Simultaneously, procedures have been eased at the legal crossing points to ensure that the people with genuine and lawful needs for border crossing face no unnecessary hurdles.
The FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) has been brought to the writ of the central and provincial government. This is a huge and intricate step for the sake of peace.
Pakistan maintains a seven-member contingent in Kabul, headed by a brigadier general, as part of the TJOC (Tripartite Joint Operations Cell). The mandate of the TJOC includes the operations and intelligence sharing, coordination of kinetic and intelligence efforts against Islamic State – Khorasan (IS-K), sharing of information and lessons on IEDs (improvised explosive devices), fostering and environment of trust and cordiality between three partners.
Pakistan Military provides actionable intelligence to ANDSF / RSM through ‘Request for Info’ (RFIs) / ‘Request for Action’ (RFAs) against terrorist’s hideouts / camps. Similarly, prompt and verifiable response by Pakistan Military is ensured against ANDSF RFIs/ RFAs.
Pakistan maintains zero tolerance against IS-K (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh), and has made sure that the ISIS does not take roots on the Pakistani soil.
The emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan under rather suspicious circumstances is a matter of concern for all the stakeholders.
There is also the need for the international community to expand its involvement across all spectrum of Afghan society instead of channeling all aid and assistance only through the current administration in Kabul. The people of Afghanistan have suffered the most and it is them who deserve all attention and support.
Despite Pakistan’s best efforts to help the cause of peace and stability in Afghanistan, it is ultimately the people of Afghanistan whose resolve and resilience will determine the fate of their posterity. Like most other conflict ridden societies, their enduring peace also resides in a comprehensive political reconciliation and a genuinely democratic, inclusive and participative political dispensation.
There is also the need for both Afghan government and international community to realize and fulfill their respective obligations with regard to regional peace. Pakistan, for example, has almost unilaterally carried all the burden of imposing border controls and managing the negative consequences of unregulated cross-border flow of unwanted nature. Similarly, there has been little support in gainful management and socio-economic reintegration of millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. Pakistan’s repeated calls for a result-oriented action against anti-Pakistan terrorist sanctuaries and hostile intelligence activity on Afghan soil have also gone unheeded.
Right now, despite the deteriorating situation in some areas of Afghanistan, peace is in sight. For this to become a reality, all the stakeholders would need to shed their acquired perceptions, look at the obvious and beyond the obvious, separate fact from fiction, and build their policies and actions around the core requirement of peace and stability in Afghanistan.
As Shakespeare said, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
The moment is now. Pakistan is striving for peace in Afghanistan. The other stakeholders, inside and outside Afghanistan, need to look at their compass. /// nCa, 31 October 2018