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 An Ariana Media Publication 07/26/2014
 An Umbrella for Afghan Stability

The New York Times
06/30/2012
By Chinmaya R. Gharekhan and Karl F. Inderfurth

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As the date for the drawdown of NATO forces from Afghanistan approaches, an atmosphere of optimism is being created, mainly in the Western media, about the prospects of a reasonably successful transition to a stable and eventually prosperous Afghanistan.

Much is being read into the manner in which Afghan national security forces handled simultaneous Taliban attacks on several targets in Kabul in April. But those incidents, no doubt competently dealt with by the Afghan forces, should not lead to any definitive conclusions regarding their capability to face up to the insurgency after 2014.

The security forces should, and probably will, be better equipped and trained by then, but it would be prudent not to be overconfident about their ability.

While the focus is on the preparedness of the security forces, less is being heard about the other, equally important pillar of the transition process: reconciliation. One does not know who, if anyone, is talking to the Taliban.

The so-called office for the Taliban in Doha is not known to be open for business. The assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani has eroded whatever effectiveness the High Peace Council, appointed by President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with the Taliban, had to conduct talks.

The Taliban laid down certain conditions before they would agree to serious talks, one of which was the transfer of five detainees from Guantánamo to Qatar or somewhere close by. The United States has not complied with the demand. The Taliban have also refined their public diplomacy over the years and can be expected to play hard or soft, as required. They have not given up on their ambition to set up an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan.

It is imperative that the two tracks — getting the Afghan national security forces up to speed and political reconciliation — make significant and parallel progress before 2014. Though U.S. forces will remain in significant numbers beyond 2014, they will be there in a training capacity, and it is not clear whether they would intervene to help Afghan forces.

Even if there was good progress on the two tracks by 2014, it should not be assumed that Afghanistan would enjoy stability. Afghanistan’s troubles have been caused largely by external powers meddling in its internal affairs for their own reasons, starting with the Soviet invasion in 1979.

What Afghanistan needs is a compact with its neighbors not to interfere and intervene in one another’s internal affairs. As former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski recently said, “We have to get the states around Afghanistan, including Iran, as well as Pakistan and India, and in the background, Russia and China, to collaborate in creating an umbrella of stability for Afghanistan because if that doesn’t happen, eventually they’ll be threatened too.”

The “Heart of Asia” conference in Istanbul in November 2011 took a significant step toward this objective, issuing an unambiguous commitment of all the neighboring states not to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

But the “Heart of Asia” ministerial conference held June 14 in Kabul did not reaffirm the non-interference obligation in unambiguous terms. Its statement said only that “Afghanistan commits that it will not allow any threat from its territory to be directed against any other country and expects its neighbors to do the same.”

Afghanistan’s future security requires that a mechanism be put into place to ensure that the signatories to the pledge of non-interference live up to their commitment. One possibility is to set up a United Nations observer group to keep a watch on along the borders and report violations or complaints to the Security Council.

The U.N. secretary general should start to lay the groundwork for this regional security initiative, without banking on successful progress on the other two tracks, strengthening the Afghan national security forces and political reconciliation.

He already has the mandate to do so under the declaration of the Bonn conference of December 2001, and both the Istanbul and Kabul “Heart of Asia” declarations have reaffirmed the central role of the United Nations in support of regional cooperation.

It is time to begin creating that “umbrella of stability” for Afghanistan, without further loss of precious time.

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan served as India’s special envoy for West Asia and is a former U.N. under secretary general. Karl F. Inderfurth served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs in 1997-2001 and is a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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