Afghanistan Inter-ministerial Coordination Cell: A reason for hope

Afghanistan Inter-ministerial Coordination Cell: A reason for hope

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It's all happening in the old FATA house in Islamabad, just adjacent to the capital’s powerful Constitution Avenue. They meet at 8:55 am sharp, five days a week. A quick five minute review of progress on the previous day’s decisions is followed by a detailed meeting on what’s next…identifying tasks required to meet the challenges, to remove ever-cropping new hurdles. With the setting up of this apex body, the Afghanistan Inter-ministerial Coordination Cell (AICC), Pakistan is on to a wise and exciting policy making approach.
The birth of this cell followed Pakistan's Special Envoy’s eighteen months of rigorous and wide-ranging multi-sectoral engagement, ranging from physical presence at Torkham and Chaman borders, meetings with the Ghani government and the Taliban, the Panjshiri, the Uzbek Opposition, to engaging officials from the Commerce, Interior, Customs, NCOC,  the IGFC and backed completely by the Prime Minister and his team including the Inter-Services Intelligence. Essentially, the AICC promises non-linear integrated and coordinated policy planning and implementation on Afghanistan.
In perhaps a first ever exercise of its kind, this forum had thoroughly choreographed Taliban’s first ministerial visit since August 15. Pakistan was clear: no risks would be attached to this visit. With lingering reservations and sanctions against the Taliban government, no misstep could be afforded, no negative response from any quarters within the United Nations or from any key country. Hence it was this inter-ministerial group that assessed the visit and its details from legal, diplomatic, political fronts and charted required visit outcomes.
The visit that overlapped with the meeting of the Troika-Plus group yielded added advantages. The Afghan ministers were able to meet some key western diplomats including the US special representative on Afghanistan Tomas West.
The members of this group come from ministries ranging from the Interior, Foreign affairs, Finance, Commerce, representatives of Customs, National Logistics Cell (NLC), Civil Aviation, State Bank Frontier Corps and from several security agencies. All are involved in ensuring there is a smooth flow of people and trade across the borders that have for centuries woven together the destinies of two people, and indeed of the many land masses of Asia and beyond.
Now this inter-ministerial coordination cell set up about three weeks ago through a circular issued from the Prime Minister’s office, is Pakistan's core planning and implementation forum on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, co-chaired by Pakistan's NSA and Special Representative on Afghanistan.

There is reason for optimism... provided Pakistan's feisty and destructive internal battles are replaced by mature engagement and internal dialogue.

Nasim Zehra

It wasn’t until last week however, that that this forum was formally introduced to the world. On November 22 its first formal meeting took place. Chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, its participants included the foreign minister, the finance minister, the National Security Advisor and the army chief. Two important decisions were taken by the PM. One, humanitarian support worth Rs 5 billion (approximately $28 million) was approved for Afghanistan. Two, Pakistan decided to facilitate the transportation of New Delhi’s 50,000 metric tons of wheat to Kabul. Indian authorities will hand over the wheat at Wagah border to WFP authorities who will transport the wheat using Afghan or Pakistani trucks to Afghanistan. Similarly, Pakistan authorities will also facilitate the return of now stranded Afghan patients who were in India for medical treatment.
Both decisions are critical for the suffering people of Afghanistan, for Pakistan-Afghan relations and for conveying to the world that Pakistan genuinely seeks to alleviate the sufferings of the people of Afghanistan.
The AICC, directed by the Cabinet and the PM’s office, will be the policy planning and implementation hub for Pakistan's Afghan policy. Among its urgent tasks is advocacy and the facilitation of humanitarian support for food starved, drought-hit, millions of unemployed and internally displaced people of Afghanistan.
The AICC is currently involved in pushing all inter-ministerial buttons to  facilitate bilateral and regional trade. Last week an important Pakistan-Afghan meeting between senior officials took place to finalize Pakistan’s support to improve the trade and travel-related crossing-over and passport checking arrangements on the Afghan side.
Interestingly, in its central concept which includes close coordination between all the ministries, the provinces and all civil -military institutions, the AICC is essentially the National Command and Coordination Centre (NCOC) reincarnated. Based on their own experiences, individuals within the Pakistan army had conceived the NCOC and civilian leadership operationalized it with critical input. The NCOC delivered outstanding results for Pakistan in controlling the spread of the deadly epidemic.
Pakistan is on to a hopeful path. Having been sandwiched within a pincer grasp from state and substate actors along its western and eastern borders, Pakistan now finds an opening on its western border. How well Pakistan utilizes its western opening depends greatly on the working of the AICC. The AICC, at least for now, appears to work with that familiar NCOC-like diligence.
There is reason for optimism...provided Pakistan's feisty and destructive internal battles are replaced by mature engagement and internal dialogue.
– Nasim Zehra is an author, analyst and national security expert.
Twitter: @NasimZehra

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