Canberra :The High Commissioner of Pakistan, His Excellency Abdul Malik Abdullah participated in a forum organized by “Forum Australia” at Taj Agra Restaurant, Canberra under the theme “Afghanistan: the Way Ahead”. The other participants, who spoke at the forum were His Excellency Nasir Ahmad Andisha, Ambassador of Afghanistan, Ms. Karen Middleton, Chief Political Correspondent SBS TV, Professor William Malley, Foundation Director, Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy, ANU. And Mr. Nicholas Stuart, Political Columnist, daily “The Canberra Times”. The Forum was well attended by a cross section of Canberra civil society.
Dr. Zakir Rahmani, President Forum Australia provided a brief history of Forum Australia. He stated that Forum Australia (Aussie Forum Inc.) was established in Canberra in 2005 with an aim to have open forums and discussions on issues that are of concern within Australia and at a global level. Since its establishment, Forum Australia has organized forums on Pakistan: The way forward, Higher Education in Australia, Skilled migration to Australia, Unity in diversity, Who to trust in Australian politics, One world one dream: living in harmony, Millennium Goals: Are we on track, and many other similar subjects. He informed the audience about the aims and objectives of holding a forum on Afghanistan.
The High Commissioner of Pakistan elucidated the contours of Pakistan Afghan policy and Pakistan’s contribution to support the brotherly country of Afghanistan in the last 25 years. Recalling the joint struggle against Soviet occupation, he elicited the enormous sacrifices made by the government and people of Pakistan in support their Afghan brethren. Pakistan sustained over five million Afghans on its soil, when the world has conveniently walked away after the Soviet withdrawal. He described Afghanistan and Pakistan as conjoin twins, whose interests and destinies were intertwined. The High Commissioner declared that peace and stability in Afghanistan as a vital national interest for Pakistan. Pakistan has been and will continue to support the Afghan led peace and reconciliation efforts. He said that Pakistan has been and will stand by Afghanistan in the post 2014 period.
The Afghan Ambassador spoke about the challenges faced by his country and the progress so far achieved in the transition process. To highlight the geostrategic importance of Afghanistan and ramifications of lack of peace and security in the country for the region, he quoted the poetry of one of the Greatest poets of the East and National Poet of Pakistan Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who said that if Asia was as body, then Afghanistan was its heart. The Ambassador that the way a body can not be comfortable unless the heart is at peace, the region would not be at peaceful unless there is peace in Afghanistan. He underlined the achievements of the past decade in education, health, security and governance and pinned his optimism in the future of his county in the wishes and resilience of Afghan people. He said that all international surveys indicate that overwhelming majority of Afghan people detest the regressive Taliban regime and are determined to defend their right to live in peace and prosperity. However, he said that his war ravaged country, which became a battleground for super powers rivalry, needs regional as well as international support to achieve the cherished objectives of peace and stability.
Ms Karen Middleton, SBS Television Political editor, ABC Political panelist and writer of recently published book, An Unwinnable War” Australia In Afghanistan, spoke on the Australian perspective and goals in Afghanistan. She in her book has laid bare the tensions between political and military decision-makers, the nature and potency of the US alliance and the influence of individual personalities in charting Australia’s course in what was once dubbed the ‘good war’. In her talk she spoke of the dilemmas which Australian government is currently facing in relation to Afghan policy. Against the background of the motives, ambitions and negotiations that carried Australia into Afghanistan she lead to the ‘transition’ plan to handover security to Afghan forces, mentioning the increasing causalities. On a happy note, she was glad to share that progress has been made in educating children in Afghanistan, particularly girls, and the number of female students has significantly increased, which is a ray of hope.
Mr. Nicholas Stuart shared his personal experiences in Uruzgan province, where he had the opportunity to work with Australian as well as Afghan soldiers. He spoke on the disparity in perceptions amongst allies and acknowledged the tribal wisdom of the Afghan people. He supported an Afghan led solution to Afghan problems and advised against imposition of any Western tailored solution on Afghanistan, which may not be in concordance with Afghan values.
Mr. William Malley shared his thoughts on the possibility of integration of Taliban and compulsion of finding a political solution in Afghanistan. Unlike Mr. Nicholas Stuart, his assessment was that due to complexity of internal situation and regional dynamics, Afghanistan would not be able to salvage itself at its own and needs consistent international support. He spoke about the role of Pakistan. He raised the issue of alleged Taliban sanctuaries in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in the context of sovereignty and state responsibility. He said that this issue has become the main reason for fraught US–Pakistan relations. He highlighted the dangers posed by religious extremism to regional countries, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan. He attributed the increasing fragmentation in their societies to religious extremism. He said that failure in Afghanistan is not an option and international powers as well as regional countries have to play their role in ensuring peace and stability in the country.
The speeches were followed by a lengthy and heated Q & A session, where the audience asked astute and crisp questions to the speakers. The discussion centered around the on ground realities, future discourse, fears and hopes for Afghanistan.
Ms Helen Wilson, Executive Member of Forum Australia moderated the forum while Mr. Manar Ahmad, Secretary, Forum Australia provided all media services. Mohammed Ali, Vice President forum Australia; vote of thanks and added that all peace loving people should not lose hope. Optimism is the name of the game.