Pak Afghan Dosti
By: Dr. Huma Baqai
A group of media anchors and analysts visited Afghanistan, early December as a part of track II diplomacy initiative supported by the regional peace and stability program of, Freiderich Ebert Stiftung (FES) – a German political think-tank which has been running the Pak-Afghan Track II project since 2012. To take further steps to deepen the bilateral relationships between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Policy Group (APG) and Pakistan Policy Group (PPG) decided to organize “Afghanistan-Pakistan Media Exchange Program 2017” which was headed by senior member of PPG Mr. Rahimullah Yusufzai. He kindly invited me to be a part of the group, that included Mr. Hamid Mir, Mr. Saleem Safi from Geo Tv, Mr Mohammad Amir Rana Director Institute for peace studies, Mr. Hasan Khan from Khyber Tv, Ms Asma Shirazi from Aj Tv, Mr. Shahzad Zulfiqar from Bol Tv, Ms Arifa Noor from Dawn, Ms Sadia Afzal from 92 Tv and Mr. Fiayaz Naich from Sindh Tv.
Everybody had serious concerns about the security situation. A fact fully validated when you reach Kabul, commuting in armored cars, with police patrol, staying at a hotel hidden behind a blast wall and barbed wires. Discouraged from stepping out unaccompanied and advised/told to inform before if one must.
Kabul has become faceless, with every important building behind security walls, barbed wires and security guards wearing bullet proof vest. The city seems to be under siege. The air is thick with fear. No matter who you talk to, whether its government officials, civil society activist, academician, members of peace council, foreigners living in Afghanistan, they will all red flag the security situation……….
Take a closer look………, Afghanistan is changing inspite of all this. Roads are clogged with cars, every hour is a rush hour, shops and fruit vendors line the road side they may disappear early in the evening, but they are there. More women on the roads and everywhere I went, they are both less conservatively dressed and more open in their views. Almost territorial with their new found space, aware of the constrains and compulsions of the society they live in, passionately ready to surge forward and move on. Prevent the regression at any cost. My best interaction was on Zan TV, a channel run exclusively for women by women. The CEO Setara Hassan is an inspiration for all she is empowering Afghan women through the media.
Zan, meaning “women” in Arabic, is the first TV station in Afghanistan to be made for and run entirely by women. It’s a radical initiative for a country where the television industry is run solely by men and where just 16 years ago, journalism and even access to education for women were banned.
She has prolonged her stay in Kabul because she can’t let down all the inspiring young women, working for Zan TV, all set to change the landscape of Afghanistan. Fifty women aged 17 to 28 work for Zan, half are qualified, half are learning on the job. Setara Hasan came back to Kabul in 2014 after fleeing the civil war in her childhood first to Pakistan then to Denmark.
Women like her are everywhere having a women take on the conflict which is the very different from the conventional mind set. They want peace and progress in the torn country and say in decision making. They are threatened and harassed, but are also encouraged and supported. Slowly and steadily the women of Afghanistan are getting back their visibility and their space. All is not perfect; statistics suggest that 87 per cent women in Afghanistan have experienced gender base violence in work places essentially meaning no women is safe anywhere, but the sea change cannot be ignored.
Media, the fourth pillar of State in Afghanistan is also facing all the challenges other pillars face. However, the progress made is phenomenal. The development of the media sector has certainly been one of the greatest achievements in the post-Taliban Afghanistan. Today, Afghans have access to about a hundred TV channels and more than 300 radio stations. The media have established themselves as one of the institutions in which the Afghan people have most confidence (65%) according to the latest survey of the Afghan people by the Asia Foundation.
On Pakistan Afghanistan relation, there is a slight improvement both CEO Abdullah Abdullah of the Unity Government and foreign minister Mr. Salahuddin Rabbani in the detail and candid discussion with the media group seemed more hopeful of improved relations between the two countries especially post General Qamar Bajwa’s visit. Eagerly waiting for the promises made and assurances given to see the light of the day probably by January.
The Haqqaini network and transit route to and from India continues to be the two sore thumbs in the relationship. Post Afghan hospitality and generosity displayed by all, the violence in Afghanistan is pinned on Pakistan. The Afghans are also fairly open to China’s peace making role. CPEC is also generating positive interest.
Pakistan embassy in Kabul issues up to 1600 visas to Afghan nationals every day to facilitate them to travel to Pakistan for trade, education and treatment. Similarly, the Jalalabad embassy also issues more than 1500 visas every day.
The relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is hostage to history and countries that pitch the two neighbors against each other the trust deficit continues to be high but at the same time the realization that the two countries need to work together to beat the conflict cycle. Afghanistan opened their hearts and their homes to us, I wonder why this does not get reflected in our governmental ties.
PAK AFGHAN DOSTI ZINDABAD!
The author is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at IBA Karachi and Electronic Media Journalist.