In January 2017, during an Afghanistan-Pakistan Partnership Summit in the Maldives, a network of social entrepreneurs called the Social Entrepreneurs Network of Afghanistan and Pakistan was created. It was expected that the network would flourish with young university students and women joining from both Pakistan and Afghanistan to work together with their communities and build peace through business. Barely two weeks later, terror struck at the heart of Pakistan and the social entrepreneurs network development came to a standstill.
Since the end of 2014, Ashraf Ghani’s government in Afghanistan has shown a paradigm shift in the Afghan economic policy from its eastern border trade with Pakistan to its western and northern border trade with Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan instead. In 2013 Pakistan was the top exporting country to Afghanistan with total exports of $1,742 million while Iranian exports were of $1,510 million. However the 2016 statistics show that Iranian exports to Afghanistan have increased to $1,808 million while Pakistani exports have decreased to $1,346 million, demonstrating Pakistan’s exponential decrease in trade with Afghanistan over the past two years. Pakistan is relying heavily on CPEC for domestic economic prosperity and is strengthening more partnerships under the recent Economic Cooperation Organisation’s 13th Summit but without solving the root causes of domestic terrorism, it might be doing so at the expense of losing business with Afghanistan. The present border management and refugees return issues are further isolating Pashtuns and giving them another reason to side with India, a regional shift that Pakistan should take serious note of. Though NAP was welcomed and the government has been chastised for not implementing rules soon enough, the point about Afghan refugees remains controversial for want of appropriate mechanisms to rehabilitate legal refugees under the UN who are not terrorists. Pakistan should refrain from further erroneous policies lest the Pakistani people suffer more as a direct as well as indirect result. Joint Pak-Afghan social entrepreneurship networks and incubators must be developed to assist in resolving the present conflict situation.
For example, social entrepreneurs can be incubated to connect refugee problems with rehabilitation through small sustainable business models. Also by connecting university students of both countries, the negative perceptions of youth, which has been mounting in Afghanistan since 2001, can be controlled if not completely countered. Pakistan’s foreign policy needs to be weighed to assess what is more beneficial in the long run: Border management, Pashtun profiling or creating a positive narrative about Pakistan in Afghanistan? By undoing years of refugee management goodwill created amongst Afghans in Pakistan’s tribal belt and Peshawar, with this recent forced eviction of refugees from Pakistan, to what extent are Pakistanis really going to benefit? Naturally, the Afghans who leave Pakistan now, will not remember the almost 40 years of hospitality but the last year of condescension. A fact which will breed more enemies than friends. Pakistan has been home to 2.5 million Afghan refugees who have lived, worked and studied in Pakistan and who called it home for over 30 years. The Pakistani diplomatic and government channels must reach out to the Afghan refugees and explain the reasons for any and all stern border management alternatives/decisions rather than profiling and scarring them for life, which may in turn prove detrimental once these refugees reach back Afghanistan.
At this crucial time in Pak-Afghan relations, diplomacy through social entrepreneurs who are neither dictated through politics nor connected by religion, may be an alternative parallel diplomatic measure that must be fostered and facilitated by the Governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2017.