Islamabad - There is a need for continuous engagement between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the regional dynamics, especially in the context of Afghanistan, continue to evolve.

More so, the two countries should invest in structuring people-to-people ties.

These views were shared in a seminar titled, “Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan: Changing dynamics and future”, organised by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank, with the support of Frederick Ebert Stiftung (FES).

The seminar was attended by scholars, members of the diplomatic community, and journalists among others.

Starting off, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal argued some progress has even been made in terms of the relation between the two, especially following the visit of Pakistan’s army chief to Afghanistan two months ago.

The Afghan ambassador revealed that the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, might also visit Pakistan soon.  Yet, he too, called for expediting the trust-building processes.

Speakers admitted that the new US’s strategy for Pakistan would affect Pakistan too, especially in the context of inviting India to play a role in Afghanistan.

India, after all, is Pakistan’s traditional rival.

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed expressed his hope that this rivalry would not dent reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

Lt Gen (retired) Masood Aslam said that the policy was condition-based, aimed at preventing resurgence of Afghanistan.

Rolf Paasch of the FES pointed towards the entry of Russia and China in the region.

Former ambassador Aziz, however, noted that China had been neutral on the issue.

Meanwhile, PIPS’s director, Muhammad Amir Rana, linked the future of Pak-Afghan relations to the Belt-and-Road Initiative, hoping that it would trigger new transformation in the region, thereby rebuilding them.

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed agreed, saying the initiative provided opportunity, for the first time, to move beyond geo-politics.

Taking stock of these developments, former senator Afrasiab Khattak warned of getting entangled in regional polarisation.

Journalist Hassan Khan lamented that Pakistan did not have Afghan policy.

Although the two countries can cooperate on security and economy, mistrust impedes any major progress.  Zubair Ahmed Malik said that even trade relations between the two, covering bilateral, transit, regional, and even illegal, become subject of political debate and tension.

He called for removing bottlenecks.

Speakers noted that people-to-people relations were non-structured, despite a lot of potential.

Khalid Aziz, former chief secretary, KP, lamented how no one takes into consideration the issue of repatriating Afghan refugees. 

The entire issue, he said, was being de-humanised.

Saleem Safi, TV anchor, called upon the media on both sides to portray positive aspects of each other.

As of now, even though both are free, their reporting about each other is either negative or not much independent.

Marvi Sirmed agreed, saying Pakistan should allow Afghan TV channels in Pakistan.

She called upon engaging media and civil society as part of track-II diplomacy; and making visa regime flexible.