The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has announced 3,000 scholarships for Afghan students to study at Pakistani universities. The commission is also planning a dedicated scholarship programme for Afghan women.
People-to-people contact remains the key in improving relations between the two neighbours. And there can hardly be a better way of achieving that than by opening up education institutes to students from across the border.
The scholarship programme marks a positive development in Pak-Afghan relations.
Pakistan and Afghanistan’s relationship takes a downturn whenever there is a major terrorist attack in either country. After the Army Public School (APS) massacre in 2014, attitudes towards Afghans deteriorated rapidly and Afghan refugees suffered as a result.
Both countries need to come together to tackle a host of shared problems including religious terrorism. Terrorist groups and their affiliates that target both countries remain scattered on both sides. While the two countries regularly accuse each other of fostering these groups on their side of the border, there has been no cooperative action to tackle these groups. Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot solve the region’s terrorism problem on their own. Cooperative action is especially important to deal with the Islamic State’s (IS) presence in the region. Furthermore, if the government of Afghanistan is ever to strike a successful peace deal with the Afghan Taliban then Pakistan will have to be involved. Pakistan will also be unable to alleviate its concerns about growing Indian presence in the region if it doesn’t improve its relations with Afghanistan. Additionally, Pakistan and the region will not be able to benefit from the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and China’s One Belt, One Road initiative (OBOR) if Pakistan and Afghanistan unnecessarily remain at loggerheads with each other.
When President Ashraf Ghani took office, he expressed his desire to follow a policy of reconciliation with Pakistan. This was before his attempts to engage in dialogue were sidelined by political stakeholders in Afghanistan. In a June 2017 speech, Ghani highlighted that Pakistan had ‘legitimate interests’ in the region that Kabul was willing to address. In the same speech Ghani also said that he would be doing a disservice to the Afghan people if he failed to engage in dialogue with Pakistan.
Thus the need of the hour is to accelerate this process of people-to-people contact. This could be done through exchange programmes involving students, professionals, traders, politicians and, last but not the least, civil and military bureaucrats.
Daily Times, September 30, 2017