Bigger perceptions are hard to undo. Especially when they have fossilized over time. With its fate attached to Afghanistan due to allegations of resurrecting the ruling Taliban, Pakistan faces the mammoth task of convincing the world of its intentions towards Afghanistan and, in turn, restoring its global image. hemorrhagic.
But, the seventeenth extraordinary session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was held in Islamabad on December 19 to draw the world’s attention to the catastrophic humanitarian crisis which takes place in Afghanistan, offers a glimmer of hope for Afghanistan and gives Pakistan the opportunity to rework its global image, which it has struggled to do over the years.
The OIC summit was Pakistan’s initiative through the convening power of Saudi Arabia, the heavyweight of the Muslim world. The summit was ostensibly well received and saw the participation of envoys and representatives from fifty-seven Islamic countries, P-5 countries, various international organizations, financial institutions and the United Nations.
It was the very first mega-event in Afghanistan to find an end to the catastrophic humanitarian crisis unfolding there. With the country on the verge of collapse and more than half of its population in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, Afghanistan is on its way to becoming the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Worse yet, in August of this year, much of the $ 10 billion in assets of the Afghan Central Bank were frozen by the United States in retaliation for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The United States conditioned the release of these assets on the Taliban’s respect for the rights of women and children and the rule of law.
Pakistan would be directly affected by the economic collapse of neighboring Afghanistan. Home to nearly 3.8 million internally displaced refugees after the Cold War, and with its own struggling economy, the last thing Pakistan can afford is a collapsed Afghanistan causing a new influx of refugees into its territory.
The OIC summit was therefore, rightly, peppered with Pakistan’s appeal for aid to Afghanistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called the summit an “expression of solidarity with the Afghan people” and called on the world to focus “collective energies on resolving the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan”. These sentiments were echoed by the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkey, among those of other Islamic countries.
Recently Pakistan pledged $ 30 million in aid to Afghanistan. However, Saudi Arabia was the only Islamic country to come to the summit with a pledge of $ 265 million in aid to Afghanistan, a paltry sum given the scale of the crisis in Afghanistan.
This is by no means a result to celebrate. But, by leading the OIC effort and through a strong campaign of public diplomacy, Pakistan has an opportunity to be on the good books of the international community. It can do so by becoming the backbone of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and, building on that, changing the lens of suspicion through which it has so far been viewed in the West.
The main takeaways from the OIC summit were as follows: it was agreed to establish a humanitarian trust fund and food security program for Afghanistan; The OIC would forge partnerships with the UN to mobilize a roadmap in relevant forums to secure the flow of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan; and, it would launch a program to ensure food security for the Afghan people. The event gives Pakistan a unique chance for redemption. Here’s why.
First, any multilateral effort to channel humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, whether through the OIC or other international donor agencies, will require at least one country to take the lead. No country is better placed to do this than Pakistan. Geography has been Pakistan’s bane, but it is also its greatest asset. Due to sharing a 2,650 km border with Afghanistan and the historical socio-cultural ties between the peoples of the two countries, Pakistan is the natural corridor for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. These efforts by Pakistan can help alleviate the suffering of Afghans and, most importantly, generate much needed goodwill for Pakistan. It can span generations of Afghans who generally hold Pakistan responsible for Afghanistan’s woes.
Second, this goodwill can also resonate globally beyond Afghanistan. To do this, Pakistan should work to transform pledges of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan into actionable financial support. This would require its foreign affairs office to contact Islamic countries on an individual basis. A well-thought-out and proactive foreign policy approach, although touted as a humanitarian enterprise, will be a boost for Pakistan and give it the much-needed diplomatic boost it needs.
Third, building on the momentum generated by the OIC platform, in the not-so-distant future, Pakistan should consider organizing a world summit on Afghanistan, ideally supported by the United States, Russia and China. This summit, like the OIC summit, should be apolitical in its orientation; Participation should be extended to the world as a whole. This can make Afghanistan the center of global humanitarian attention and give Islamabad an opportunity to mend its fractured relations with Washington and with Western countries.
There were clear signs during the summit that Pakistan wishes to disassociate itself from the Taliban government in Kabul. The Pakistani foreign minister made it clear that the summit was not about recognizing the Taliban but about “engaging” with the new dispensation in Kabul. He advised the world to do so by pushing the Taliban by “persuasion, by inducements, to go in the right direction.” He also said that the summit was targeting “the Afghan people” rather than “a particular group”.
This is an important, if not often repeated, message from Pakistan, which is desperately trying to shape the narrative surrounding its dealings with the Taliban. But to accomplish that would be a daunting task. In August 2021, Pakistan’s much-vaunted policy shift towards geoeconomics – the country’s attempt to position itself as the regional trade hub for connectivity – was doused with cold water after the Taliban took Kabul, a event that the world blamed on Pakistan. .
To undo these entrenched negative perceptions, Islamabad will not only need to continue to constructively disassociate itself from any illegal acts committed by the Taliban government, but also, paradoxically, be the first to repeatedly remind them that their hopes for help Sustained humanitarian aid, let alone international recognition, would be wiped out if they did not keep their promises regarding the rights of women, children and minorities in Afghanistan. The world will not only closely monitor the Taliban, but Islamabad as well, to assess the underlying intent of Pakistan’s openness to the world.
And, finally, it would also require Pakistan to focus on putting its own house back in order on a war footing. As Ali Jaffrey recently stated, Pakistan must not waste the gains of its armed forces and law enforcement agencies by surrendering to radical factions such as Tehreek-e-Labbaik, Pakistan (TLP). The TLP, a radical group that used a religious slogan for political ends, was recently embroiled in a two-week standoff that resulted in the deaths of seven police officers. Not only did the government sign an agreement with the TLP, it also removed the TLP from the list of banned organizations.
To demonstrate its seriousness by turning a new page with the world, Pakistan should take urgent measures to curb militant formations like the TLP which pose an existential threat to the country. No Pakistani business on behalf of Afghanistan will stand a chance of success if Islamabad is unable to demonstrate that its own house is in order.
Long-term global adherence to Pakistan’s efforts on Afghanistan and, at the same time, the restoration of its global image will ultimately depend on Pakistan’s ability to translate its rhetoric into action. This is perhaps the best chance for Pakistan to turn a new leaf with the world.
Hassan Aslam Shad is an international lawyer and geopolitical analyst based in the Middle East. He graduated from Harvard Law School.