Opinion Maker Report
By S. M. Hali
Bonn 5th Dec: The Bonn Conference on Afghanistan hosted on December 5th raised the aspirations of the 1100 participants towards reaching peaceful settlement of the problems facing Afghanistan and the region, although it was described as a conference for peace rather than a peace conference by Ambassador Michael Steiner, Germany’s special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, yet the exercise did achieve a few steps in this direction.
I was invited to attend the conference by the German Foreign Ministry and departed Islamabad before the Government of Pakistan decided to boycott the event as a protest for the NATO and ISAF forces murdering 24 Pakistani soldiers at a check-post well inside Pakistani territory. Since I had reached Germany, I decided to make the best of the trip to present Pakistan’s viewpoint to the German and International media. We first visited Berlin, where we held discussions with members of the German Parliament, the Bundestag regarding the Bonn Conference. Our media group comprised four Afghans, three Pakistanis and one Iranian and Kazakhstani journalists. Our hosts were keen to know what the real reason for Pakistan’s boycott was. We made it absolutely clear that Pakistan had no hidden agenda and its anger, angst and hurt feelings must be respected. After all, as retaliation to the arson at the British Embassy in Tehran, UK closed down its diplomatic mission, withdrew its diplomats and expelled the Iranian diplomats from London. Simultaneously, European Union expressed its condemnation of the attack on the British Embassy. No loss of life occurred in the Tehran attack; it cannot be condoned but the Occident is unfairly chastising Pakistan for reacting to the perhaps premeditated massacre of its soldiers while itself retaliating to the Tehran event.
The Bonn Conference was preceded by a number of events. One of them was a two day’ seminar organized for the Civil Society of Afghanistan by various German political NGOs. Thirty-four participants of Afghan Civil Society Forum, German politicians, philanthropists and media attended the event at the Beethoven Halle. It was ironic that in the historic city of Bonn, home of Ludwig Van Beethoven, the composer of immortal and serene musical scores, some members of the Afghan Civil Society Forum made venomous attacks on Afghanistan’s neighbour Pakistan for harbouring terrorists, aiding and abetting the Taliban and possessing nuclear weapons, which may be acquired by terrorists to destabilize the world. The other impression was that the Civil Society Forum indulged in praising the Karzai regime and could find no faults with it. Secondly they took pains to highlight the problems plaguing Afghan society, but they spoke in general and vague terms only, failing to identify possible solutions.
On the eve of the conference, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon desired to meet our group of journalists from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan exclusively. We queried the UN Secretary General, if he has asked for an investigation into the attack on the Pakistani military check-post by NATO since it was a violation of the UN mandate. He chose to ignore the question. When asked how the decisions taken at the Bonn Conference be binding on Pakistan in absentia, he stated that Pakistan had already given its consent to abide by them. This was another slap on Pakistan’s face as if Pakistan’s presence at the Bonn Conference was immaterial.
The conference itself commenced with short speeches by the German and Afghan Foreign Ministers and Mr. Karzai and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. Each delegates presented a three minute short speeches to express their view point. The Chinese Foreign Minister gave a five-point recommendation for peace, which comprised respect of Afghan sovereignty, capacity building, developing its economy and addressing the concerns of Afghanistan’s neighbours. Iran made it clear that it deemed it undesirable that some foreign powers wanted to extend their military presence beyond 2014.
The German identification with the Afghans is understandable that Germany itself was humiliated by the allies following the First World War, defeated, occupied and divided after the Second World War and so is the case with Afghanistan. Thus the efforts of the Germans to help rebuild Afghanistan are both noble and based on emotive norms. The arrangements made by the German Foreign Ministry to host the 1100 delegates are commendable and deserve kudos while the Goethe Institute that hosted us journalists, was both hospitable and professional. The change of Afghanistan from “Transition” to “Transformation”, the slogan of the Bonn Conference, will take a while but we pray and hope that peace will not elude the region.