What the people of Afghanistan deserve after three decades of foreign aggression, civil war and terrorism is peace so that they can reconstruct their country which has been destroyed many times over. What they require from other countries in the region, irrespective of their systems and mutual rivalries, is assistance to realise their dream. Naturally, the Afghans would welcome help coming from any quarter in overcoming terrorism and in the subsequent nation building. Cooperation from Pakistan would be most valuable at both stages and raise bilateral relations to a higher level provided Islamabad bids farewell to the two ill-conceived and unachievable policies formulated under Zia and Musharraf. The first aims at turning Afghanistan into a satellite and the second recommends using terrorist groups to achieve the target. What needs to be realised is that Pakistan stands to suffer most if terrorist networks operating in the two countries are not wiped out. What is more, the world including some of Pakistans closest allies have now zero tolerance for terrorism. In case it retains fondness for terrorist groups, Islamabad would paint itself in a corner and, in time, turn itself into another North Korea.Pakistans over 2,500 kilometer long border with landlocked Afghanistan, close ethnic ties between the two countries and Afghanistans proximity to Pakistans industrial centers and agricultural markets provides Islamabad a leverage that no other country can match. Islamabad has, in the past, simply failed to explore this vital avenue. It preferred projecting a military image rather than use the favourable economic and social factors to strengthen bilateral ties. Afghanistan offers a market for Pakistans finished goods like cement, sugar, textiles and cigarettes and for its services sector. The country being food deficient, will also rely on Pakistan for wheat and rice. Increased Pak-Afghan trade and improvement in communication networks will put new life in the decaying industrial sector of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.Peace in Afghanistan will also bring other major economic benefits while adding to Pakistans clout with its neighbour. Electricity from Tajikistan and gas from Turkmenistan would partly reduce the shortage of power which is crippling the countrys industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors while also causing political unrest. Resurgence in reconstruction activity in the war ravaged country will benefit Pakistans cement industry and create jobs for engineers and semi-skilled workers. Joining hands to eliminate terrorism offers the prospect of a win-win situation for both countries. A combined move to put an end to lawlessness can alone remove the prevailing lack of confidence between the two countries It is highly worrisome that the military establishment in Pakistan should demand a price for cooperation instead of realising that peace and friendship are as vital for Pakistan as for the Afghans. In February this year, Gen Kayani resurrected the concept of strategic depth which one had been led to think had been laid to rest after the departure of Mirza Aslam Beg and Hameed Gul. As Gen. Kayani put it, a peaceful and friendly Afghanistan could provide Pakistan the strategic depth which, according to him, is vital for Pakistan. The advocates of the concept maintain that Pakistan, being very narrow (area-wise) at its middle, could be cut into half by an Indian attack in force. In case this happens, proceeds the argument, the army should be able to withdraw along with its assets into Afghanistan to regroup and launch a counter attack.Which sovereign state would willingly invite the army of another country to use its territory as a launching pad against a third country and, in the process, allow its cities to be bombarded, its land invaded and its citizens butchered? While the concession could be wrung from a colony against its wishes, it is simply unimaginable how a sovereign country could extend facilities of the sort. The proposal is simply outrageous. Furthermore, isnt it highly callous for an army to leave its own people to the mercy of the enemy at time of war to be able to save itself to fight another day?After the departure of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, so-called jihad was restarted against former mujahideen groups holding Kabul for no other reason than to set up governments that could act as puppets in the hands of the Pakistani security agencies. When the former creatures declined to oblige, a new group of terrorists called Taliban was recruited from seminaries, trained, armed and launched into Afghanistan. There is a need to eschew the outdated notions of the spheres of power. To have friendly relations with Afghanistan, the country has to be treated as an independent state rather than a part of a sphere of influence where Islamabad supposedly has uncontestable special interests. Afghanistan has never been a colony, nor can it be turned into Pakistans backyard or a fifth province in this day and age. The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.