Afghanistan 2014 and beyond:Lessons from the past, preparing for the future. Can the international community still succeed? Dr. M. Jalil Shams 7 December 2012
Introduction Let me first thank the Centre for Peacebuilding (KOFF) at swisspeace and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) for giving me the opportunity to talk at this event. We all know that ISAF troops are intending to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 while the International Community remains committed to stay on further to help. But considering the present situation in Afghanistan one worries about what would happen after 2014 and wonders about what should be done to avoid the repetition of the 1992 Soviet pull out? To offer proper answers to these and other related questions one needs a more detailed analysis which is out of the scope of this presentation. Nevertheless we will try in the following to explain what has gone wrong in Afghanistan and how it can be rectified in order then to evaluate on the basis of the present conditions the success chances of the International Community’s (IC) engagement there.
What has gone wrong in Afghanistan? In our opinion the main reason for the present problematic situation in Afghanistan is the difference in the priorities which the IC (especially the USA) and the Afghans were giving to the aims to be achieved through a solution to be worked out by the “Bonn Conference” in 2001. Considering the little interest shown by the IC in response to the approaches by different Afghan Initiatives looking for support in regard of a solution for the Taliban problem before the events of 9/11 and the sudden change of mind after those events, which resulted in summoning the “Bonn Conference” while the US-troops were already fighting in Afghanistan, one can assume that the order of the US- priorities was as follows: 1. Taking revenge on Al-Kaida and destroying its infrastructures. 2. Take advantage from the presence in Afghanistan to strengthen the strategic position of the USA in the region and increase pressure on Iran. 3. Stabilization of Afghanistan on the basis of a western style democracy.
What has gone wrong in Afghanistan? (cont.) Whereas on the Afghan side, they were aiming first of all at 1. getting rid of the Taliban regime, 2. ending the then ongoing civil war, and 3. restoring stability in Afghanistan without favoring any specific political system. US revenge on “Al-Kaida” was seen by the Afghans as the driving power behind the support they were going to get from the IC and as such it was accepted as a byproduct of the US- and International support. But there was a great deal of skepticism in regard of the US-strategic goals in the region and the role Afghanistan was expected to play in it. As the power to make decisions was in the hands of the IC and the USA, their priorities prevailed. Consequently the “Bonn Agreement” was interpreted and implemented in a way to achieve the goals according to the US priority order. The result is that, although the aims of the IC and the USA are to a large extent achieved, Afghanistan is still far away from peace and stability.
What has to be done? NATO is assuring that they are now focusing on enabling the Afghan security forces to take over the responsibility after the withdrawal of the ISAF troops. Efficient and operational security forces are of course essential for any country, but no army, however strong and well organized it might be, will be able to suppress an uprising which is getting increasing support from the people. Much is also expected from the elections in 2014. But these kind of formal democratic actions under the present circumstances may not help to solve the problem. Beside the fact that one side of the conflict is excluded from the process, the political elite on both sides has no vision of, and no definition for the “National Interests” of Afghanistan. What is needed is a change of mind of all domestic and foreign parties involved in regard of the future developments in Afghanistan and a new approach towards a real national reconciliation.
What has to be done? (cont.) To achieve this we suggest the following steps:1. Informal talks to be conducted by a neutral entity (preferably Afghan) with all parties (domestic & foreign) involved in the conflict to find out a common base on which a political solution can be worked out. In this respect it is essential that: This common base shall not compromise the substance of the present constitution, whereas the forms and modalities can be modified in order to accommodate the ideas of some of the Afghan groups. Any changes in the present constitution shall be undertaken according to the manner specified by the constitution itself.2. A conference similar to the “Bonn Conference” shall be convened to which all Afghan conflict parties including the radical Taliban and HIG are invited to achieve, through dialog, a political solution which should guarantee the legitimate rights of all segments of the Afghan society.
What has to be done? (cont.) This political solution must at the same time consider the legitimate interests of the neighboring countries especially Pakistan and Iran. These countries must accept the achieved solution and guarantee to abide by it and support its implementation. In order to achieve such a solution and implement it successfully it is imperative that the IC and the USA: Have the true will to help restoring stability in Afghanistan Give the national interests of Afghanistan priority over their own strategic ambitions Facilitate the dialog among Afghans and coach them where needed without trying to impose their own ideas and values.
Prospects after 2014 As under the present circumstances there are no signs of true readiness to opt for a political solution on the Afghan side , nor are there any indications recognizable that it would move along the afore mentioned lines on the part of the International Community, the prospects for restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan is anything but rosy. For the developments after 2014 the following scenarios are possible: The present regime is strong enough to stay on in power; then the civil war will continue as it did from 1992-2001, i.e. local warlords will control their own regions with a kind of nominal relation to the government in Kabul. The regime collapses, then the terror regime of Taliban will take over because the strong men of the nineties are either dead or not that strong anymore. The country will disintegrate. None of these scenarios will end the suffering of the Afghan people. Let us hope that our analysis is wrong.