The Hollings Center for International Dialogue, through a grant from Public Affairs Section (PAS) of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, convened the second Afghanistan-Pakistan Partnership Summit in Istanbul, Turkey from May 4 -8, 2018. This year’s 23 participants included representatives from civil society, academia, media, and business. The objective of the summit was to promote better bilateral and people-to-people relations between Afghanistan-Pakistan by facilitating a dialogue on cooperation in the key areas of the relationship. Additionally, the summit was planned as a first step in a longer path of increased economic and professional linkages between Afghanistan and Pakistan in support of economic growth and civil society participation.
Throughout the three-day summit, participants provided many suggestions for improving people-to-people ties through collaboration – both in the larger group dialogue sessions and during the breakout groups discussions held toward the end of the conference. The Center encouraged participants to think of constructive ways to work together through some of the issues that were discussed during the pre-orientation meetings and the joint summit. To further develop ideas that participants provided throughout the sessions, breakout groups were created and tasked with developing possible programs to address popular perceptions, social development, and economic linkages.
Participants suggested the following opportunities for collaboration:
- Focus on skills development of businesses already working together in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These do exist and should be featured and promoted.
- Use existing advisory and regulatory groups to support enforcement of trading norms and economic linkages. Participants suggested numerous bodies that could provide assistance to this effect, including but not limited to the WTO, Joint Chambers of Commerce, or Google Startup. Participants also called for the creation of new advisory groups for sectors that do not currently have them.
- To assist with trade issues, create a joint border commission that will help manage disputes.
- Focus on non-security related economic sectors for social enterprise development. Participants specifically suggested resources and environment, sports, cultural diplomacy, and art.
- Develop cultural exchange possibilities, focusing specifically on tourism and food.
- Develop sector specific experience sharing models and programs. The participants specifically recommended doing this in the hospitality and cultural sectors.
- Sponsor an exhibition that displays existing cross-border collaborations. This would help put a cooperation narrative into mainstream media, bypass political narratives, and potentially foster new collaborative enterprises.
- To support and protect the development of free press in both countries, create a pool network for Afghan and Pakistani journalists. This would not only provide a cross-border support network for journalists, but could also be used to promote a cooperation narrative in media outlets. Participants suggested this could be accomplished using existing social media platforms.
In addition, two of this year’s Summit participants, Ahmad Fahim Didar from Afghanistan, Executive Director of Aghaez Professional Services and Maria Umar from Pakistan, Founder and President of Women’s Digital League discussed opportunities for collaboration between their respective companies and discussed these opportunities further during the Summit. The two sides created a collaborative agreement to “work together on projects which can enhance community level interaction and ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan through non-traditional entrepreneurial approaches.” The agreement outlines ways in which both companies will support each other through skills training and joint exchange programs. The agreement between the two companies was signed during the Summit amid all of the participants who highly praised this development from their group.