A Surge of Diplomacy, Please

The 68-nation London conference at the end of this month will focus on the future of Afghanistan, against the backdrop of major new military commitments by the United States and NATO, promises from the international community of increased civilian assistance, and pledges of new anti-corruption measures from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.



By Karl F. Inderfurth & &chinmaya R. Gharekhan (AFGHANISTAN)

Published: Sat 23 Jan 2010, 9:49 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Apr 2015, 1:27 PM

But assuring Afghanistan’s future will require more than a military and civilian surge and better Afghan governance. A diplomacy surge is also required. Specifically, in the words of a recent statement signed by 20 former foreign ministers led by Madeleine K. Albright, “there needs to be a regional solution to Afghanistan’s problems.”

To reach the goal of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, the country must have better relations with its powerful neighbours, including Pakistan, Iran, China, India and Russia.

Afghanistan’s neighbours have reached the conclusion (some grudgingly) that support for a stable, independent, economically viable Afghan state is preferable to the past three decades of chaos in that country and its spillover effects of extremism and terrorism. Despite this, the region’s opportunistic states will revive their interference in Afghanistan in the event of a failing Kabul government or an international community that reneges on its commitments to help secure and rebuild the country.

While dealing with the Taleban insurgency must be the first order of business, the best way out of this morass is to return Afghanistan to its traditional policy of neutrality  and to take Afghanistan “off the board” for future “Great Game” rivalries.

The 2001 Bonn Agreement that re-established Afghan state institutions also provides a basis for this approach. A number of neutrality models for Afghanistan can be considered, such as the International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos, signed in Geneva in 1962 by 14 states. The agreement spelled out reciprocal commitments, including pledges to respect Laotian neutrality, to refrain from forging military alliances with the country, establishing bases on its territory or interfering in its internal affairs. This format suitably adapted for Afghanistan could include a formal Afghan proclamation of neutrality, its endorsement by the Security Council, and the acceptance of reciprocal obligations by the Afghan state and relevant countries. In addition, these elements could provide the framework for a comprehensive package that would include a settlement acceptable to both parties of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and a commitment on the eventual elimination of foreign forces now in Afghanistan. Other issues would also need to be addressed: What kind of mechanism should be established to monitor compliance? Should there be peacekeeping of some sort? Who would deal with complaints of violations? Almost two years ago the Atlantic Council of the United States issued a report that said: “Unless those parties interested in saving Afghanistan understand that a regional approach is essential, the stalemate will continue.”

The London conference provides an opportunity to launch this regional effort and should call for the formation of an international contact group, under the auspices of the UN secretary general, to lead a surge of diplomacy for Afghanistan.

Karl F. Inderfurth served as US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001. He is a professor at George Washington University. Chinmaya R. Gharekhan served as India’s special envoy for the Middle East and is a former UN under secretary general &© IHT


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