Hosted by Cultoor (culture) Organisation at Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA), from March 30 to April 2nd 2018, in Islamabad was an effort to promote regional peace. The festival used culture as a tool to connect the Pashtoons from Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was a multipurpose event comprising literary gatherings, books, food stalls, handicrafts, music and many other sessions. However, the cultural and political debates were something that stirred the audience.
One of such debates was titled ‘Regional Peace: People to People way forward’. Both sessions of the debate were moderated by the ex-foreign secretary of Pakistan Dr Hamayun, accompanied by several intellectual panellists including strategic analyst Ahmad Rashid, Pakhtun leader Afrasyab Khattak, ex ambassador Ashraf Jahangir Qazi and others. Representatives from Afghanistan included Adviser to CEO of Afghanistan on trade and investment Mozammil Shinwari and member of Afghan High Peace Council Palwasha Hasan.
The debates were imperative in a way that they attempted to sort out a way forward among people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and how to bring the two countries closer via its people.
The debates were a wake up call for the people of the two countries where major portions of population have scores of unbreakable connections via religion, culture and ethnicity
Ahmad Rashid in his remarks said that “Pakistan has a wonderful geo strategic geography and we love that we are the linchpin for east, west, north and south trade and investment and even now with CPEC. But unfortunately despite such an important place in world economy we committed several mistakes particularly in context of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. For example Pashtoons in the area are being used as cannon powder for all regional and super powers, Turkmenistan gas pipeline was kept on hold since 1994 and electric projects from Central Asian Republics (CAR) coming via Afghanistan also suffered and at present, except China, we have more enemies than friends in the surroundings”. Rashid reminded the audience that despite huge differences, Pakistan and Afghanistan have maintained a very good relationship during the era of King Zahir Shah and that was largely because of the Pashtoon relationship. Now this relationship should be reviewed at a time when a peace process is already underway. Rashid called on both the countries to forget about the Americans, Indians and others for a while, as both the countries have greater responsibility and leverage.
Jahangir Ashraf Qazi commented that “it’s one of the wise moves to develop a strategic relationship with China but one of the most unwise aspects of our foreign policy has been mishandling of Afghanistan”. He added that we need a crystal clear policy regarding Taliban, the US and even border management but there is no debate about the priority we should give to develop our relations with Afghanistan and if we fail to do so, the later will go for alternatives”.
In his arguments, Afrasyab Khattak warned people and governments of the two countries and said that both the countries have no choice but to swim and sink together. He lamented that if the situation between the two countries is not improved, it will have a direct impact on increase of trade at Chabahar and decrease of business at Gawadar with a direct impact on the people of FATA and other Pakhtun regions.
Mozamil Shiwnari from Afghanistan had same feelings and wished a serene environment for the whole region. In his presentation, he elaborated the ongoing challenges of Afghanistan and future perspective via regional cooperation—at government level and via people to people contact.
The debates were a wakeup call for the people of the two countries where a major portions of population have scores of unbreakable connections via religion, culture, ethnicity etc. They have shared boundaries and knitted into blood relations. Both countries are inter-dependent and facing common challenges of terrorism, turmoil, economy and threats from many fronts. Moving ahead, the question of future of the Pushtoons is unavoidable. It’s the Pashtoon cultural bond that can tame the menace and bring the two countries together. High commands of the two countries have to encourage a people to people contact, led by the Pashtoons from both sides. Meanwhile, Pakistan should behave like a big brother and should respect the sovereignty of Afghanistan while the younger brother should avoid creating inflammatory environment. We should remember that making peace needs more courage than fighting and for both sides, instead of building a wall, it’s better to transform it in to a door.