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Need to revive Afghan peace talks

Islamabad (28 June 2016): ‘Pakistan needs a stable and consistent foreign policy to promote and protect its interests in the region’ said Humayun Akhtar Khan, Chairman IPR. This was stated at a discussion held today by the Institute for Policy Reforms. Titled “Is Pakistan Isolated: Regional Challenges and Opportunities”, the seminar generated a healthy and lively exchange of ideas among leading experts and an informed audience about Pakistan’s relations with the neighbours.

Syed Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister was the keynote speaker. Other speakers included noted regional expert, Anatol Lieven, and senior analyst, Zahid Hussain.

Tariq Fatemi gave a comprehensive overview of Pakistan’s regional interests and policies. He emphasized that Pakistan wished to have cordial relations with all countries. Pakistan must not be held responsible for the failure of other countries. Tariq Fatemi discussed the background of the recent tension with Afghanistan. He said Pakistan made every effort to maintain best of relations with Afghanistan. Pakistan has provided support to Afghanistan and will continue to do so. A stable Afghanistan was entirely in Pakistan’s interest.

In his introductory comments, Humayun Akhtar Khan said that Pakistan has invested several decades of institutional and financial resources in its relations with Afghanistan. These relations are important not just bilaterally, but to connect with Central Asia. A major advantage from CPEC comes from regional connectivity that links Pakistan with Central Asia’s major energy resources. He asked if the cross border incidents with Afghanistan was sign of a deeper problem between the two countries or a one off issue. “Today an important question is not merely about peace in Afghanistan, but peace with Afghanistan.” He also recommended that Pakistan must strengthen cooperation with Iran and minimize differences, if any, with the United States.

Eminent historian and author of Pakistan a Hard Country, Anatol Lieven, said that breakdown of Afghan peace talks has increased US animus. During his travel to Washington DC there were questions about the possible justification for Pakistan’s position on Afghan peace talks. While hostility with US has increased, China continues to support Pakistan. However, Pakistan must not take this support as a carte blanche.

No country wants Pakistan to cross the line between sheltering the Afghan Taliban and arming them. Pakistan will forfeit all goodwill if this were ever to happen. It is desirable to revive the peace talks. However, at present the positions of Pakistan and Afghanistan are so far apart that there is no realistic hope for early resumption. He termed it a crisis that Pakistan could do without. He hoped that all countries would work to resolve these issues and resume the talks.

Senior journalist and well known writer Zahid Hussain said that Pakistan’s foreign policy was driven entirely by national security. He said that our security interest remains India centric when Pakistan has many more interests in the region. Pakistan was focused on its geo-strategic position   in an age when countries build on their geo-economic situation.

He said that our insecurity has led to a narrow definition of national security. It does not consider economic, food, or water security. These considerations have defined our foreign policy. Even our relations with USA are shaped by this paradigm as have all other relationships. China and India have used geo-economics for their benefit. Pakistan has completely ignored this aspect. Our economy is weak. One sign of which is the modest GDP growth rates of three to four percent of recent years. Without a sound economy, Pakistan cannot hope to build an effective foreign policy.