Afghanistan has endured an upheaval of immense magnitude in the past three decades. The disintegration of the republic in the recent past has exacerbated the already tense situation and made ripples in Afghan society and the wider region. Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. The biggest casualty of the events has been the youth of Afghanistan, who had to relocate to neighboring countries in search of better life and future. The biggest chunk of Afghan refugees went to Pakistan and many are still stuck. As a responsible neighboring country, it is incumbent on Pakistan to help these youth in distress. It will cultivate the spirit of goodwill and contribute to the foreign policy objectives of reaching out to the people of Afghanistan. In this regard, Pakistan can enable the capacity building of Afghan youth.
According to the former National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA) of Afghanistan, the estimated population of Afghanistan is 38.93 million. Women comprise almost half of (49%) of the population. The institutions of tertiary, middle, secondary, and higher education are struggling to grapple with the immense challenge to cater to the requirements of logistics and trained staff. The emphasis of the Taliban government to segregate on the basis of gender has created peculiar problems for the education sector in Afghanistan. To better cope with the situation, Pakistan can lend its hand to train the staff, give logistic and advisory support to the authorities in Afghanistan. The assistance to the Afghan people must be channeled through educational collaborations and other pertinent sectors. Allama Iqbal Scholarship for higher education has greatly benefited in capacity building of Afghan youth, especially women. Scholarships for female students to study in Pakistan must be enhanced.
Another avenue for possible cooperation can be in sports diplomacy. Sports inculcate a spirit of teamwork, playing by the rules and competition in a positive way. Afghanistan, though war-stricken, has a huge potential in sports. Youth are the main pillars of these extracurricular activities. Last year, a video conference was conducted by Pak Afghan Youth Forum that gathered athletes from both countries. They belonged to diverse categories of sports such as Cricket, Taekwando, Squash, and Football. The discourse revolved around mutual cooperation to train and assist the athletes on a reciprocal basis. Pakistan can assist Afghanistan in providing training and infrastructure for cricket and squash. Conversely, Afghanistan has a vibrant Taekwando and Football culture. Matches can be conducted between the local teams to give a message of harmony among two countries and harbor sports diplomacy in its true spirit.
Food and culinary diplomacy is a developing arena of exchanges between diverse cultures. In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, both have cultural affinities. Afghan food is widely popular in Pakistan. Many young Afghan entrepreneurs have successfully ventured into this arena. “Afghani Burger” and “Mantu” are a favorite savory for the people of Pakistan. There is a famous restaurant named “Kabul restaurant” in F7 Markaz Islamabad, filled with Pakistani food lovers. Pakistan must enhance its cultural ties with the neighboring country through unconventional cooperation. Encouraging food businesses owned by Afghans in Pakistan and also exporting the delicious restaurant chains to Afghanistan in cooperation with Afghan entrepreneurs is another such avenue of a win-win situation. Afghan youth will greatly benefit from job opportunities while it will also bring normalcy and employment to the war-torn country.
Youth-led initiatives always bring creative ideas to the fore. Pak-Afghan Youth Dialogue is a major confidence-building initiative of the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) under its Afghan Studies Center (ASC) program to provide a platform for the youth of Pakistan and Afghanistan to interact on issues of bilateral concerns, exchange ideas, and become messengers of peace and cooperation beyond boundaries. Plethoras of events were organized by Pak Afghan Youth Dialogue under the auspices of the Center for Research and Strategic Studies (CRSS), which was attended by dignitaries from the government of Pakistan. It engaged the youth of Afghanistan and Pakistan to discuss the problems pertaining to youth in both countries. Participants enthusiastically gave several suggestions in order to enhance the cooperation between both countries. Such youth-led initiatives should be encouraged on the state level and more of such activities should be planned. It will give the youth of both countries a stake in how their countries should run their policies, especially pertaining to youth affairs.
Afghanistan is Pakistan’s western neighbor and giving back to the young community in Afghanistan is a fantastic way to uplift the spirits of the people in distress. It will have immense social capital while negative perceptions about both countries could be eliminated. People to people ties can the antidote to harboring a new era of cooperation between both countries. A vibrant and strong Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s best interest. Strengthening the social ties with the youth of Afghanistan, who are the backbone of the country, is an exceptional way to achieve this objective.