By Manzoor Ahmed
The hostility of the Afghan people towards Pakistan is growing. It is difficult to find someone prepared to say a positive thing about Pakistan, says an eminent Pakistani journalist after a visit to Kabul. Writing in Dawn newspaper (December 20, 20170, Zahid Hussain blames this on his country’s leadership viewing Afghanistan solely from the Pakistani security viewpoint that is dominated by the military and its ‘obsession’ with ensuring a ‘friendly, Pakhtun’ regime in a multi-ethnic country.
He has acknowledged India’s ‘growing’ influence in Afghanistan, especially among the people of all sections. But he discounts that this is the reason why people are anti-Pakistan, something successive governments in Pakistan tell its people. Hussain notes that any talk of India and India-Afghanistan relations is met with hostility from the Afghans who treat that as ‘interference’ in their affairs by Pakistan.
He also notes with indignation that many of the young people he met in the government and among the academia in Kabul were either born in Pakistan or had spent several years in Pakistan as refugees before and during the Taliban era. But they have “no empathy” for Pakistan for all the empathy that they had received during their Pakistan stay. “It is not just about the hostility of the government in Kabul; more troubling is the fact that the adverse sentiments in Afghanistan towards Pakistan are deeply entrenched in the public.
“The indignation has heightened over the past years, with most people in Kabul blaming Pakistan for their suffering. Those feelings are especially evident in urban and educated sections of Afghan society. There are very few who see Pakistan in a positive light,” writes Hussain who is among the most respected independent journalist-analysts of Pakistan. He was in Kabul for a conference at a private university, one of the dozen-plus, he notes, that have thrived along with education in the past decade. “Education is one area that has seen massive progress over the last one decade in this country, despite worsening political instability and the spreading insurgency. Hundreds of thousands of students are enrolled in more than one dozen universities in the city – a marked transformation from the days of the retrogressive Afghan Taliban rule,” he says, drawing a contrast between the Taliban era and later, with a dozen years under former President Hamid Karzai.
“Most students I interacted with in a seminar shared similar views about Pakistan being a villain that is responsible for many of Afghanistan’s problems. Many complained about Pakistan supporting the insurgents responsible for the death of thousands of Afghans. Distrust of Pakistan is palpable. It is hard to find anyone in the Afghan capital willing to speak in favour of Pakistan”. It is hard to find anyone in the Afghan capital willing to speak in favour of Pakistan. The anti-Pakistan resentment is strong among the ministers and high-ranking officers he met. “The resentment is not restricted to any officials who now live in Kabul have little empathy for the country which once patronised them, Hussain observes.
He lambasts the government in Islamabad for blaming this on India. “This state of denial is, however, not helpful in improving our image… Yet one must not gloss over our flawed policies and attitude that are stoking public scepticism inside Afghanistan,” he cautions. Analysing Islamabad’s faulty Afghan policy, he says, “One of the major reasons for Pakistan’s growing isolation is that our entire Afghan policy is built around a skewed security paradigm while diplomacy has taken a back seat.
“Understandably, four decades of conflict in the region and Pakistan’s position as a front-line state has enhanced the role of the security agencies. But the formulation and implementation of policy should not be left entirely to the security establishment, he says. Of the Afghan policy, he says: “Our foreign policy has suffered hugely because of its direction being determined solely by a national security paradigm that must be corrected in light of the fast-changing geopolitics of the region. “But sticking to the old ways may not help deal with the challenges. Our obsession with a ‘friendly’ Pakhtun-dominated government in the past has hugely contributed to public resentment against Pakistan. He blasts India bogey being expediently used by Islamabad. What irritates the Afghans most is our insistence on curtailing India’s role in their country. Its very mention is seen as meddling in their internal matters.” The Afghans show equal vehemence when it comes to Pakistan’s role in supporting the Taliban. The women are the most resentful, ostensibly because they have either experienced of learnt of the regressive Taliban philosophy.”The question regarding Pakistan’s alleged support for the Taliban insurgents is not only regularly raised at official meetings but also questioned by the public. The rise of Taliban insurgents is seen by the younger generation as the most serious threat to the gains made in the field of education. The number of female students reportedly surpasses that of males in most universities and they want this trend to be protected.” Calling for serious efforts to improve Pak-Afghan relations, Hussain says, “We have failed to take advantage of our geographical and cultural proximity to win public goodwill and strengthen our economic and trade ties in order to neutralise the antagonists.
It is not just geopolitics but also geo-economics that should be driving our Afghan policy.” After Pakistan recently sent back Afghan refugees seeking medical treatment and put restrictions on cross-border travel, causing much indignation among them, many travelled to India for medical treatment. Hussain notes that India is providing a subsidized air travel facility for those requiring medical help. “Unnecessary travel restrictions (by Pakistan) under the pretext of border management have further alienated the Afghans.
The move has also affected trade, with Pakistani exporters suffering greater losses. Such short-sighted and reactive actions have hugely affected our interests in Afghanistan. Hence it is not surprising to see how young Afghans feel about us,” Hussain says.