Panel Discussion on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East


On May 1, 2012, President Obama and President Karzai signed the “Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement” between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America.

The agreement outlines the relationship between the two countries going forward, after the war officially comes to end and the troops leave.  It also affirms the expected cooperation between both governments based on “mutual respect and shared interests.”

President Obama recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan and reiterated 23,000 troop withdrawl in the summer-equivalent to the amount of troops added during the troop surge- and the overall 2014 troop withdrawal.

On April 17 during a United Nations Panel discussion at Mercy, Ambassador Zahir Tanin permanent representative of Afghanistan and Ambassador Ahmad Kamal who is the former permanent representative of Pakistan engaged in a discussion about their two respective nations. The discussion centered on the current state of both nations, their histories and ultimately, their roles in the stability or lack thereof in the region; not to mention the growing power of Iran and its intentions and aspirations as a nation.

To understand the state of these two countries it becomes important take a deep look at their history but as Ambassador Kamal warns, it is “dangerous”-the nostalgia about the past glory of the country must not blind us to the future. Afghanistan has had democratic tradition that brings hope to what it can become once again, whereas Pakistan’s history shows a feudal system. In a sense, there is a different in expectations from the world and the Afghan people.

Both countries work well in the region but according to Ambassador Tanin, that relationship took a shift in the 70’s when ideology began to shape policy in Pakistan- the state became responsible for establishing Islam instead of policy. Jihad was brought to light and the “islamification” of Pakistan began.

This is where the United States portion of the conversation began- Ahmad Kamal in turn says that America welcomed and played a role in that evolution in Pakistan which was a response to Soviet expansion and rule in Afghanistan. According to Tanin, the agenda of America and Pakistan were different in their alliance against the soviets. America wanted to stop soviet rule and growth while Pakistan wanted to become the leader in the Islamic world.

Little time was spend on acknowledging the greatness of the Afghan people but more so on the state of the region today and how that has come to be. Location becomes an important word in a conversation about the region, according to Ambassador Tanin, location makes Afghanistan a target for those trying to enter the region; also, the play an important role in the geo politics of that region.

“As the last 10 years have shown us, location matters and we are trying to change that in to a positive economy,” according to Ambassador Tanin.

The two men then turn their attention to an eventual resolution to the problems of that region.

Ahmad then asked the Ambassador, how you would solve the problems in the region and in Afghanistan. Tanin responded by saying that “It has to be a regional response between India, Iran as well as America.” He then elaborated by saying that Russia and China must also play a positive role in stabilizing the region. “We need to include everyone.”

Ambassador Kamal even joked about the difficulties the U.S administration faces in dealing with the region and the war in Afghanistan. “America is a democracy where as I believe in a dictatorship.” He said this only to point out the fact that the American people want the troops out of the country and out of this 10 year long war and given that this is an election year, it is politically wise to speak of withdrawal.

“The U.S is torn between getting out and staying long enough to leave a stabilized region. Public pressure will not allow troops to stay in Afghanistan no matter how necessary it is.”

As important as the Taliban is in the region, Zahir points out that this is not the same Taliban that was there prior to the invasion. Also when it comes to dealing with the border, it is not all about the Taliban but more so about the two countries involves; Pakistan and Afghanistan. “We need more cooperation between the countries.”

Ahmad Kamal is more pessimistic in terms of border security saying, “the border can’t be controlled, no military solution only political.” Not to mention, the situation on the border is unsustainable for all parties involved even the Taliban.

The discussion ended with the power in the region that is in pursuit -according to many- of nuclear capabilities. Iran and the situation with Israel is complicated but it is their role in Afghanistan that is alarming and may have a sustaining impact. Ambassador Zahir is worried that Iran may play a role in bringing an anti-American factor to Afghanistan and the region; “which would be bad for Afghanistan.”

Ambassador Ahmad ended the discussion on a dark and frightening note in his prediction for the relationship or lack of it between Iran and Israel. If Israel attacks Iran, World War III according to Ahmad would be the outcome.

All Muslim countries will stand with Iran, America will have to stand with Israel in turn involving Russia and China.” A dark and unlikely outcome that both men hope doesn’t come to fruition.”