Ambassador of Pakistan
August 14, 2009
Mark Twain, the great American writer, once said Johann Sebastian Bach's music is better than it sounds. This is true of Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship. It was always better than portrayed.
In the face of strong adversaries who would do whatever it takes to spoil this bond, the two countries and their peoples have not deviated from the path of friendship. Multitudes have invested, and continue to invest in this unique relationship .
A distinguishing feature of our bilateral relations is the shared border spanning some 2,500 kilometers which is crossed by some 50,000 people everyday. This reflects the strength of socio-economic interaction between the two countries.
Pakistan is pursuing a close, friendly and cooperative relationship with Afghanistan . A peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is in our national interest while war and instability in Afghanistan is hugely detrimental to prosperity and stability of Pakistan . The type of linkages we have makes it obvious that Pakistan will be the prime beneficiary of peace and economic development in Afghanistan and would always be the foremost victim of instability and under-development in this country. Contrary hypothesis promoted so assiduously is sheer cant.
Brotherly spirit of relationship is testified by the wholehearted support to each other during hours of need and difficulty. Following Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan welcomed and happily shared its space and bread with over 5 million Afghan refugees.
We also extended instantaneous support to Afghan resistance; months before the world decided to come to Afghanistan 's help. Pakistan did this at a great peril to its own security. Unfortunately, some in the region sided with the occupation.
Pakistan continued to support its Afghan brothers and sisters when the world walked away from them. Even today, Pakistan has over 2.5 million Afghan refugees on its soil. Some 37 per cent of the refugees, who voluntarily repatriate to Afghanistan , are back in Pakistan within weeks.
When the world turned its back on Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, Pakistan remained engaged. It is now easy to pass judgments on some of our decisions during that period but this is hindsight vision, which is - as they say - always 20/20.
Pakistan also did not cease its support to Afghanistan after 9/11. It has continued to facilitate the reconstruction of Afghanistan since 2001. For example:
Over two thirds of senior officials in the Afghan central government today who could speak English or work with computers are trained in Pakistan
Of all the Afghan students who currently study abroad, some 60 percent attend colleges and universities in Pakistan . This does not include over 150,000 Afghan refugee children who attend primary and secondary schools in Pakistan .
A scholarship proposal under bilateral assistance programme announced few years ago is materializing this year. One thousand Afghan students for Graduate and Postgraduate level studies will be admitted in Pakistani universities. This fully funded scholarship programme is being implemented in addition to several existing educational programmes for Afghan students.
The first foreign bank to operate in Kabul after 9/11 was National Bank of Pakistan , which was followed by two other private Pakistani banks. The emerging banking sector of Afghanistan heavily depended upon Pakistan 's human resource in its initial phase.
The telecommunication industry of Afghanistan drew Pakistani manpower, or Afghan human resource trained in Pakistan , in its nascent stage.
The first foreign airline to start operations to Kabul after 9/11 was our national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). PIA pioneered the opening of Afghanistan to international air traffic.
Some 90% of Afghans who seek medical treatment abroad cross the border with Pakistan . The overwhelming majority of these patients are poor who get free medical treatment in our government or philanthropic healthcare facilities. For example, some forty percent of patients in the largest government hospital in Peshawar are either Afghan refugees or those who travel for treatment to Peshawar from Afghanistan . About a third of all the visas issued to Afghan nationals by our Embassy and Consulates in Afghanistan are for medical treatment. A single philanthropic Pakistani organization performed over 30,000 free eye surgeries on Afghan patients, both refugees and those who traveled from Afghanistan , in 2008 alone.
Pakistan is also undertaking several reconstruction projects in Afghanistan in education, health and infrastructure development areas. Following are some of the major Pakistani projects in Afghanistan :
Rehman Baba School has been completed in Kabul , where 1200 students are receiving education. A hostel, to accommodate 1000 students, is being built for this school.
Torkham-Jalalabad Road is near completion.
A state of art Allama Iqbal Arts Faculty at Kabul University is near completion.
A 200 bed Jinnah Hospital Complex is under construction in Kabul .
Nishter Kidney Hospital is near completion in Jalalabad.
A 200 bed Naib Aminullah Khan Logari Hospital is being built in Logar.
Sir Syed Science Faculty Block is being constructed in Nangarhar University , Jalalabad.
Liaqat Ali Khan Engineering Faculty Block in Balkh University , Mazar-e-Sharif is under construction.
Another half a dozen large projects, including two Eye Hospitals , Limb Centre at Badakhshan, two Nuclear Medical Centres in Kabul and Jalalabad are in the pipeline.
A robust trade and economic interaction is another important feature of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. Pakistan is the largest trading partner of Afghanistan while Afghanistan is Pakistan 's third largest trading partner. The two countries are presently engaged in negotiating a new Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement to regulate and further facilitate transit of Afghan trade through Pakistan .
Pakistan is committed to pursue the strengthening of relations and deepening of engagement and cooperation with Afghanistan , which is vital for peace, stability and prosperity of the region.
The unique relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan - which is rooted in common religion, culture, tradition, history and values - is not just a relationship between two states or governments: It is way beyond this. It is between the two peoples and societies. Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship is unmatched in spirit, level of interaction and variety of interface by relationship between any other two nations in the world.
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(This article was published in English by Daily Outlook Afghanistan , and in Dari by Daily Afghanistan , both Kabul-based mainstream newspapers.)