On Monday the former Chief of Staff North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Lt. General (retd) Phil Jones, while speaking at a webinar discussing the Afghan peace process, praised Pakistan role in facilitating peace talks and making a permanent resolution possible. He cautioned that while current developments are very encouraging, peace in Afghanistan will not be achieved overnight, adding that without political stability withdrawal of the US forces is unlikely.
The former NATO Chief of Staff made these comments during an online seminar organised by Pakistan House, titled, “Dividends to Pakistan’s Economy from Afghan Peace: Challenges and Opportunities”.
The webinar was also addressed by Afghanistan’s former Minister of Economy Dr Mustafa Mastoor, Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammed Sadiq, Former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador Aizaz Choudhry, and Executive Director of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Dr Abid Suleri. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General (Retd) Ehsan Ul Haq was the Chief Guest of the conference.
During his keynote address, Phil Jones said that a lot of mistrust still exists between the warring factions, and time is needed to sort out these issues. “We have to be patient and move step by step to achieve full peace in Afghanistan,” Phil observed.
He said currently NATO has 12,000 soldiers engaged in Afghanistan. He added that although the incumbent US President Donald Trump has hinted at the complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan several times, it is a more a political slogan rather than a real one.
He said 4,000 to 5,000 US troop are likely to remain in Afghanistan because terrorism is still a big issue.
He said until and unless permanent peace and political stability is achieved in Afghanistan, US or NATO cannot leave it unguarded because there is a possibility that it can again become a hub of terrorism.
Phil Jones said peace in Afghanistan became possible only because of the positive role played by Pakistan. He said Pakistan had sacrificed a lot in the four-decade long conflict.
The former NATO chief said convincing Taliban to talk peace is Pakistan’s big achievement: “If permanent peace is achieved, then the major credit will go to Pakistan.”
Dr Mustafa Mastoor
Speaking at the occasion, Afghanistan’s former Minister of Economy Dr Mustafa Mastoor said that the four-decade long war in Afghanistan has totally destroyed its infrastructure; the country needs extensive funds to rebuild itself. He said that at the moment, despite economic aid from donor agencies and developed countries, more than 50 percent of revenue of the government goes towards defense and other security-related expenditure. He said after meeting the government’s running expenditure very little money is left for development.
“Right now, we hardly have any money for infrastructure development, health and education,” he lamented.
He said by ensuring peace in Afghanistan energy projects of Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) gas pipeline and Central Asia-South Asia power project (CASA-1000) can be materialised, which will not only be a great source of revenue for Afghanistan but also meet the increasing energy needs of Pakistan.
He said 20 years ago Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan through legal channel were just $1.2 million, in next 10 years they had increased to $2.5 billion, but today it has been reduced to less than a billion.
Dr Mustafa said there is a misconception that Afghan transit trade is damaging Pakistan’s economy. He said Pakistan can earn a handsome amount by allowing the use its trade routes between Afghanistan and India. At same time by allowing Afghanistan to use Karachi and Gwadar seaports it can easily earn $3 to $5 billion per annum. Simultaneously, Afghanistan by opening its route to Pakistan for trading with Central Asian states, will bring dividends for itself and for the region at large.
The Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammed Sadiq in his speech said whatever happened in Pakistan and Afghanistan has an impact on both countries. He said without peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan cannot achieve economic stability.
He said during Doha peace talks Pakistan invested enormous political capital to make the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban a success. He added that to encourage the bilateral trade between two countries Pakistan has planned to open 12 markets on the Pak-Afghan border where manufacturers and traders of both countries can sell their products.
Mr Sadiq assured the listeners that by February next year one or two markets will be made operational on Pak-Afghan border as a pilot project. He said to further boost the bilateral and economic ties with Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Parliament should play its due role in engaging people of both countries.
Addressing the webinar, Former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador Aizaz Choudhry said the peace deal between the Afghan government and Taliban is at a crucial juncture.
He said US Special Representative Zalmay Mamozy Khalilzad along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have put in a lot of effort to make this peace deal possible. He said there are still fears that non state actors like ISIS can jeopardise this peace deal by increasing terrorist activities in Afghanistan.
He said peace in Afghanistan is not only in Pakistan’s interest, but Russia, China, Central Asian States and even Iran will be greatly benefit with peace in the region. He said to ensure permanent peace in Afghanistan all regional countries should give an undertaking that they will not allow proxies to use their land to destabilise Afghanistan.
The former Ambassador said that Afghanistan, along with Central Asian States, can also reap benefits from the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); through the infrastructure project regional trade can increase manifold. “Stopping Afghan transit trade can increase problems for Afghanistan,” saying that instead of imposing a ban on Afghan transit trade the Government of Pakistan should take measures to stop the smuggling and pilferage of goods between two countries.
Executive Director of SDPI Dr Abid Suleri supported the observations of his fellow panelists by saying that TAPI holds great significance for Pakistan because it is facing a huge shortage of affordable energy. He said since winter started the price of LNG has already substantially increased in the international market. He said TAPI project is not only crucial for Pakistan, but for Afghanistan as well.
He said Afghan Transit trade window in the recent past has been heavily misused. He said huge quantity of imported goods meant for Afghanistan through Pak-Afghan border were smuggled into Pakistan without paying any duties.
He said because of this practice the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was losing between Rs 300 bn to Rs 400 bn in term of import duties and it was also making locally manufactured goods uncompetitive. He said now, since the agreement of Afghan Transit is in renewal stage, one has look on these loopholes and flaws which damaging Pakistan’s economy.
Dr Abid said that Gwadar Port will start catering to Pakistan’s needs after five to six years. However, it can be used for intra-shipment purposes. He said that Afghanistan can use Gwadar Port for sea-trade in near future.
Chief Guest of the conference, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Retd Ehsan Ul Haq, in his concluding remarks said that peace in Afghanistan now seems to be a reality but at the same time challenges and fears still exist.
He said even in the ranks of Taliban difference of opinion exist on this peace deal. However, he said that even the Taliban want peace in their own country and region as a whole.