By Tariq Saeedi

nCa Report and Commentary for Opinion Maker

Ashgabat, —There are some indications that announcement may come soon about the start of the peace process in Afghanistan.

A special representative of the UN Secretary General, and the first deputy foreign minister of Turkmenistan, mentioned such possibilities when answering a question by nCa Monday (16 May).

The opportunity for asking the question occurred during a seminar hosted by the UNRCCA (UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia) in Ashgabat. The keynote speaker in the seminar ‘The Geopolitics of Peace Building’ was Ambassador Pekka Haavisto, the special envoy of Finland for Somalia and Sudan.

With more than 12 years of experience in hot spots, Haavisto is ideally suited to speak on ‘The Finnish Experience’ in Peace Building. His presentation, featuring original photos from Kosova, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan, convincingly connected the anatomy of a conflict situation to economy and environment.

On conclusion of his talk, nCa asked him to propose at least three initial steps to kick start the peace process in Afghanistan. This was in the context of the 5-point peace formula proposed by Turkmenistan for establishing and promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Haavisto, with his experience in negotiating with all parties in a conflict situation, advocated involvement of moderate Taliban in the peace process. He underlined the need to differentiate between the ‘international terrorists’ and the ‘local resistance against the west.’

He also called for allowing more flexibility to the Karzai administration in prime-moving the peace talks.

However, he stressed that any parties invited to sit on the table must first prove their sincerity to peace and abhorrence for terrorism.

The question was also directed at Miroslav Jenca, the special representative of the UN Secretary General and the head of UNRCCA in Ashgabat, requesting him to outline the progress that had been made so far in giving a definite shape to the peace process.

Jenca said that the prerequisite for peace talks was the identification of parties who must sit on the table. He said that Staffan de Mistura, the special representative of the UN Secretary General in Afghanistan and the head of UNAMA was engaged in this process and he was constantly in touch with UNRCCA.

Jenca said that he would soon visit Afghanistan to look at the ground situation and consult with several officials including the head of UNAMA.

He told that in addition to the peace formula offered by Turkmenistan, several other processes were also in various stages of development. He specifically mentioned the Bonn conference scheduled for the end of this year and the peace proposals by some other Central Asian countries. However, he underlined, that the peace initiative of Turkmenistan was in an advanced stage.

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Alluding to the undeniable truth that peace without accompanying economic steps is a hollow concept, Jenca said that a special session of UNECE, UNESCAP, and SPECA will be held in Ashgabat on 7-8 June 2011 to discuss a complete range of social and economic projects with joint participation of Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Wepa Hajiyev, the first deputy foreign minister of Turkmenistan, added to the remarks of Jenca, giving a nearly complete picture of how far the peace talks had evolved in quiet diplomacy.

His remarks are the first candid and detailed statement of the Turkmen government on the Afghanistan peace situation. As such, his remarks need to be studied carefully in full. Here is the slightly paraphrased translation of his remarks, edited for clarity:

“Regarding the initiative of Turkmenistan on the Afghan issue, firstly we all know that there are a lot of initiatives concerning the settlement situation in Afghanistan. There are a lot of schemes and formulas. Each of these schemes has its own positive and unproductive elements, sometimes hindering the applicability of such schemes in the conflict settlement.

“I would like to note that the political dialogue is the basis of our initiative. But this formula was not considered suitable by main parties involved in the settlement of the situation in our neighbouring country. Some sides didn’t accept the formula at all. It is out of question, they said.

“The time has shown that it is good to meet and talk. It is better to start from the ground – to discuss the positions of the interested parties.

“It is the first aspect; the initiative for hosting the dialogue was first voiced by Turkmenistan. Our respected president made this statement officially last year.

“This process is moving well. One of the actions is the coordination of the efforts, being done by the UNRCCA and UNAMA. This process has already been in motion. As you remember, the visit of the former head of UNAMA, Kai Eide and other actions were part of this process. This is the political aspect and there are [rich] prospects in this aspect. In the next few days you will know some concrete results.

“Concerning the political aspect, you all know the external factors and how they affect the movement of initiatives. You know the information stressed by Mr. Saeedi about the elimination of the terrorist leader [Bin Laden]. It is an external factor and it can influence the situation in Afghanistan.

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“The economic aspect is a very important element of our initiative. You know, one of the five points [of our peace formula] is the implementation of regional energy and economic projects.

“The push for construction of TAPI – it is a significant route. The situation on TAPI is warming. It holds great promise and bright prospects. It is not only an energy project. The route will link several regions. The project will not only bring economic benefits but would also contribute to the regional security of the transit countries.

“Other economic projects are the construction of the railway line to Afghanistan and the increase of the electric power supplies.

“Earlier this year I participated in a conference in Istanbul. Our position there was summed up in the slogan ‘Security through regional integration.’

“It is better not to surround the country by walls but to link it to different regional projects, to get involved in the common economic integration process. That means to open opportunities for economic interest and to raise the security level.

“The Turkmen side has pursued its initiatives actively and if all goes well we will achieve good results.

“There is the difference between ‘projects.’ The initiative for development has its own international image. The initiatives for negative influence on the situation in the neighbouring country will never be successful, particularly regarding the Afghan nation. The Afghan people can quickly discern the falsehood; they can recognize the attempts at interference; the can see through the attempts to usurp power. That is why only the sincere initiatives are destined for success.

“Our initiative proceeds from the national political and economic interests. As soon as peace is established in Afghanistan, we will be able to implement the regional economic projects for the mutual advantage. We will be able to create the island of security in the Central Asia and Middle East region. This is currently a very important aspect.”

nCa Commentary by Tariq Saeedi: The peace in Afghanistan will remain a mirage if certain elements are not reviewed or redefined:

As Ambassador Haavisto rightly pointed out, there is the need to differentiate between the international terrorists such as Al-Qaeda and the local resistance against the western forces such as some factions of Taliban.

The United States needs to explain as to why it is spending billions on new and current military bases when all the major objectives of the war have been achieved. The presence of the American bases would be a permanent source of irritation for all the neighbours of Afghanistan, especially China – Might as well convert all those bases to high qualities universities and leave Afghanistan for good. After all, Afghanistan was neither a threat to its neighbours nor a source of narcotics before the red armies came barging in.

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Afghanistan is neither ready nor suited to the western style grassroots democracy. The Loya Jirga is a tried and tested institution for keeping Afghanistan in good shape. In order to make it more representative and to make it difficult to corrupt this institution, it may be advisable to increase fourfold the number of Jirga delegates.

There should be no, absolutely no interference in the peace process. This warning is especially relevant to the USA, Great Britain, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, and India.

Everyone should STOP arming and financing the warring factions.

There should be NO ATTEMPT to divide the Afghan society along the ethnic or sectarian lines.

While it would be too much to expect any sincerity from the big players, particularly the United States, there are certain facts that I want to register:

A very senior Taliban official told me in 2000, about ten months before 9/11, that Taliban were looking for a way to ask Bin Laden to leave Afghanistan. He said that Bin Laden was welcome as a guest but not as an active player in the day-to-day running of the government, a role he was trying to assume.

Just before the hasty start of bombing of Afghanistan after 9/11, the negotiations had reached the stage where the Taliban were ready to expel Bin Laden provided he was sent to a Muslim country except Saudi Arabia or Pakistan and where he could be tried by a Muslim judge under Islamic law. However, Bush administration was not interested in any amicable solution; it was more inclined to use the occasion for a cheap popularity stunt, a stunt that has brought the US economy to near-collapse.

I can smell some plans to divide Afghanistan into two or three states. From the personal experience based on more than 15 years of interaction with various Afghan leaders, I can assure that it would cost dearly any country that attempts it.

Using the situation in Afghanistan, or borrowing any elements from the Afghan conundrum to duplicate the Arab Street scenario in Central Asia will be a sorry adventure, making the authors curse the day they planned the exercise in stupidity.

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