PM Imran Khan on 20 November 2020 paid a visit to Kabul, Afghanistan on the invitation of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Since the Afghan peace process is on, we have seen how windows of opportunities are opening for Afghanistan rehabilitation and future prospects. This was the first official visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Afghanistan since his assumption of office in August 2018. Definitely this visit is made at a crucial juncture when recently US elections were held and the US selected its new President for coming years. Surely it is before time to say what will be the policy of Joe Biden (President-elect) but considering the situation of past decades of US troops in Afghanistan and announcement of withdrawal of US and allied forces from Afghanistan shows US want to leave Afghanistan, which it made battleground in order to find conclusion to its announced war against terrorism. Not only Afghanistan but Pakistan paid an equal price for being victim of this terrorism. Pakistan with its brave and valiant defence forces particularly Pakistan Army fought this war against terrorism in an exemplary manner and world today acknowledges its efforts for restoration of peace. Pakistan has always supported efforts for peace in Afghanistan and this visit is pertinent at the moment when the intra-Afghan dialogue hosted by Qatar is on though with slow pace but positive momentum engaging all stakeholders. Pakistan has played a key part in brokering the ongoing peace process that helped in starting a formal dialogue between Afghan Taliban and the government in Doha on the 12th of September this year.
During his one-day visit to Afghanistan, PM Imran Khan reiterated Pakistan’s all-out support for peace and stability in Afghanistan. PM said he had chosen this moment to visit Kabul to assure the Afghan government that “Pakistan will do every-thing, whatever is possible, we will do to help reduce this violence and in fact move towards a ceasefire”. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after the meeting commented that we have come to an understanding that a shared vision regarding cooperation is not only essential for relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but a harbinger of regional cooperation and connectivity. Both the leaders discussed ways to further deepening the fraternal bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Afghan peace process and regional economic development and connectivity. President Ghani and PM Imran Khan also agreed to strengthen bilateral relations as the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan were linked through immutable bonds of history, faith, culture, kinship, values and traditions. The Pakistani Premier expressed confidence that his visit would help foster a stronger and multi-dimensional relationship between the two brotherly countries.
Earlier Pakistan-Afghanistan relations that were often marked by trust-deficit and hostility have seen remarkable improvement in Ashraf Ghani’s era. In order to boost ties, one must not forget that both countries share strong ideological and cultural affinities that can be explored for better future ties. Whatever is happening on the political front, one channel which can and should always remain active is the domain of public diplomacy. People-to-people contact is a way to keep moving things forward in a positive direction beyond political happenings. Though sometimes certain initiatives appear as stalemate due to political reasons or foreign policy goals between any of the country, yet effective lobbying is a tool to bridge such gap. Social Sciences defined “public diplomacy as the conduct of international relations by governments through public communications media and through dealings with a wide range of non-governmental entities (political parties, corporations, trade associations, labour unions, educational institutions, religious organizations, ethnic groups and so on including influential individuals) for the purpose of influencing the political opinions”. Public diplomacy seeks to promote national interest by using different channels of communication between masses. In case of enhancing public diplomacy between Pakistan and Afghanistan, many ventures are already in progress particularly in trade and commerce, education and health sectors. Pakistan is providing scholarships to a large number of young students from Afghanistan for higher education. Likewise a number of patients from Afghanistan are provided with health facilities often free of cost. Pakistan PM in his recent visit to Afghanistan expressed his interest in exploring sports ventures and activities between Pakistan and Afghanistan and particularly cricket diplomacy can be another reason to foster thriving ties in the playgrounds. Similarly mutual media ventures, production of films and dramas, joint web TV, media exchange programs can play a pivotal role in promoting better relations through art and culture. Culinary and food festivals on the food specialties of different provinces from both sides can enrich people’s taste and another reason to promote the tourism industry.
In this regard, Pak-Afghan Youth Forum (PAYF) is a civil society initiative in the realm of public diplomacy which from time to time is taking different steps to fortify relations between the two countries. One such goodwill cause was a three-day media workshop which was held a few weeks back in Islamabad and journalists from both sides participated in it. It gave the audience and participants both a clear picture as to where they need to work hard and bridge the gap while addressing loop-holes. Students and youths, being the future of any country, can play positive and concrete role in mending Pak-Afghan relations as they are the generation which has grown amid war against terrorism and knows the high value of peace. So in the domain of public policy engaging asset of youth and addressing issues can help to have more fruitful relations in future and forums like PAYF can play a role of facilitator among common people. Overall, in the past few months one can observe optimistic impetus from both Pakistan and Afghanistan for better relations that are deeper than known history, higher than known heavens and closer than known relatives.
—The Islamabad-based writer works as Senior Coordinator at PAYF.