Search for consensus on Afghanistan
MALEEHA LODHİAn orderly “transition” in 2014, the date when U.S. and NATO combat forces pull out from Afghanistan, rests on progress toward a negotiated political settlement. But a serious peace process to advance Afghan national “reconciliation” has yet to get off the ground.
That is why a regional conference that convened in Istanbul on Nov. 2 focused less on this pivotal issue – with little progress on “reconciliation” to report – and more on how regional states can assist Afghanistan’s stabilization at a time of transition. The joint hosts Turkey and Afghanistan, backed by the U.S., ensured that this summit was as much about the region as about Afghanistan.
Istanbul was the venue for the first of three conferences intended to erect a framework of international support for Afghanistan. Had the Istanbul conference set its sights on eliciting endorsement by regional states for the 2014 transition and for Afghan reconciliation and affirmation of broad principles for cooperation, including mutual undertakings of non-interference, it would have been easy to galvanize a strong regional consensus.
But the initiative’s backers and sponsors started by wanting much more. They sought to establish a new security architecture, complete with an institutional mechanism and a “contact group” charged with implementing
an ambitious set of confidence-building measures.
These were outlined in the draft outcome document drawn up for the conference. This sparked contention rather than help to promote a consensus.
In two preparatory meetings to finalize the document, the main disagreement swirled around the attempt to create a regional security structure.
Russia, Pakistan, China and Iran among others, objected to establishing any security apparatus or a new
Although Islamabad did not make its reservations public, they were conveyed by its diplomats in the drafting sessions at Oslo, Kabul and Istanbul. They related mainly to the operative clauses in the revised Turkish-Afghan draft, which provided for a regional security process. The setting up of a “senior officials” group from the Heart of Asia countries and the institutionalization of meetings after the Istanbul conference were seen by Pakistan and other countries as retaining the ingredients of a regional security apparatus in all but name.
A consensus document emerged at the eleventh hour in Istanbul only after many of these provisions were modified or in some cases deleted to accommodate the views of Moscow, Islamabad, Beijing and others. The realization dawned that a document rammed through the conference would only run aground on complex and fraught regional realities.
In the end the Istanbul summit adopted an agreed document that expressed support to a “sovereign and independent” Afghanistan, endorsed Afghan-led reconciliation and transition to Afghan security responsibility and affirmed the “New Silk Road” vision for regional economic integration.
It also reaffirmed the principles set out in the 2002 Kabul declaration on Good Neighborly Relations including non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and respect for Afghanistan’s territorial integrity.
But this display of solidarity did not obscure what remains to be done. After all Afghanistan’s stabilization lies in actions taken in and by that country. That means stepping up efforts to spur the process of reconciliation with the Afghan insurgency and accelerating the search for a political solution to end a protracted conflict.
* Dr. Maleeha Lodhi is Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S. and the U.K. This abridged article originally appeared in the Khaleej Times online.