“Kabul-Islamabad can’t afford to live in hostility no matter if both have one thousand differences,” are the words uttered by a seasoned Afghan journalist, Hikmat Safi, back in July 2013 soon after I entered Kabul — a densely populated city with constant security checkpoints and concentration of international and Afghan security forces.
The unfriendly ties forced this writer to explain his personal account regarding culture, life and troubled politics of Afghanistan after working over a year in Kabul. Though in the last couple of months, both estranged neighbors have been trying to mend their fraught relations with exchange of high level delegations between the two countries. The Pakistan-Afghanistan standoff has for sure prompted the common man on the street to ponder as to who would benefit if both the countries remain at loggerheads.
Islamabad and Kabul cannot afford to live in hostility because of their reliance on each other on a wide range of areas. The backdrop is of bloody clashes at Torkham and Chaman borders in June last year, and the latest in May this year, left dozens of soldiers and civilians dead and wounded on both sides. Ironically, both nations didn’t notice any third party calling for de-escalation of tension amid sporadic trading of fire at Chaman and Torkham border regions, which should be an eye-opener for both the governments that any third force tends to benefit from their tense ties.
Back in July 2013, the thorny journalism profession ultimately took me to Afghanistan — a country I long desired to visit. Though personally hailing from the South Waziristan tribal region, I visited Kabul at a time when clashes and mayhem were ruthlessly haunting the border belt. South Waziristan was once regarded a dangerous place on earth — and as the birthplace of the Taliban whose excruciating rule saw millions of people migrate to safer places of the country.
I worked in Afghanistan for over a year after I got an offer to join a Kabul based Pajhwok Afghan News — a trilingual wire service. To give myself sometime to understand Afghan politics, my assignment at Pajhwok News has made my work experience more variegated, giving me valuable insights into regional politics, the security environment, and issues touching the lives of millions of people.
Afghan leaders’ verbal diatribes against Pakistan in the wake of almost every bomb blast there gave birth to anti-Pakistan sentiments among common Afghans; though every third Afghan I spoke to lived or is still living in Pakistan. In this state of affairs, Islamabad needs hectic diplomatic efforts to reverse the tide of anti-Pakistan sentiment at government level as well as the public level.
Based in Kabul, I closely monitored the security situation back in the tribal belt, and the region as well. My focus has been the conflict, which left thousands of children orphans; women widowed and snatched homes; rich tribal culture destroyed along with the hopes of millions.
In July 2013, I entered Afghanistan via the-then loosely manned Torkham border. It was more than a daunting challenge to work in war-battered Afghanistan — and even more so when you have Pakistani nationality — but the conflict back home has already contributed to my experience. I observed parts of Afghanistan and the tribal region of Pakistan were robbed of their beautiful culture and peace when terror forced its way there.
For a Pakistani journalist, working in Afghanistan is a risky job because a sort of intelligence war there wreaked havoc with the lives of those who have somehow say in Afghan or regional politics, but the tribal people have seen the worst. One thing I experienced during my tumultuous one year stay in Kabul was that Afghans would continue to suffer with no peace in sight because the countries involved lacked seriousness to ensure peace in the landlocked country.
One thing I experienced during my tumultuous one year stay in Kabul was that Afghans would continue to suffer with no peace in sight because the countries involved lacked seriousness to ensure peace in the landlocked country
For many Afghans I spoke to, pushing the Taliban out spurred optimism that their country would get a stable government, a proper system, and unprecedented peace. But their hope is marred by surging violence perpetrated by influential figures amid rampant corruption that continues to haunt them for decades now. Common Afghans initially believed that the country’s elite, jihadi commanders, political stalwarts and tribal warlords would leave no stone unturned to lay strong foundations of a new and stable Afghanistan, and heal the deep wounds of Afghan society in the backdrop of US onslaught of Afghanistan.
But, to the contrary, Afghanistan’s institutions could not be strengthened and political fragmentation of the country continues undisturbed. A sort-of intelligence war continues to play havoc with the peace of Afghanistan and tends to expand with no imminent end.
Indubitably, it was really a rich experience for me to know about the changing traits of Afghan politics. I used to wake up almost every morning to write about breaking news such as drone strikes, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts, kidnappings and clashes.
It was always painful for me to write on casualties suffered by children while playing on the dusty grounds of Afghanistan. The persistent risks of explosions and attacks snatched the opportunity of natural growing-up experience from the youngsters of the country. If one of the neighbors experience violence and instability, it has direct impact on all its neighbors. The interests of Afghanistan and Pakistan are interlinked for countless reasons.
In Kabul, I direly felt that Islamabad should activate its diplomacy to improve its battered image among common Afghans, whose leaderships blame Pakistan for almost every incident. Time is ripe for intelligentsia, politicians and leaders from both the countries to workout modalities and other parameters on a long-term basis to co-exist because civilians tend to suffer on both sides if the tide of animosity is not reversed.
The author is a correspondent at News Lens Pakistan, and has vast experience in reporting on security issues. He has worked at Pajhwok Afghan News, and has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, The Globe and Mail, Christian Science Monitor and Times of London. He tweets @RehmatMehsuds