By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
President Obama has announced the draw down schedule of American troops from Afghanistan. Eighteen months ago, he was mis-led by his generals into a massive troop surge that he personally didn't fully support. He has now re-shuffled his war and diplomatic teams to lead the path of de-escalation. However, America and its ISAF/NATO paraphernalia appear as bewildered and clueless about the end objectives as they were ten years and billions of dollars earlier.
Neighbouring countries of Afghanistan are fearful of negative fallouts from Afghanistan similar to post Soviet withdrawal era. Though there are nearly a dozen functional initiatives at the international level focused on the Afghan conflict, unfortunately all of them are missing the very basic ingredient, the role of the six countries which have common borders with Afghanistan. It is interesting to observe that on the heels of Obama’s drawdown declaration, Iran has hosted a trilateral summit in Tehran where Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan have agreed to fight the terrorism jointly. Hopefully, the initiative would expand in due course to include other bordering countries of Afghanistan as well.
The UN Security Council has voted (resolutions 1988 &1989) to split joint sanctions` blacklist for Al Qaeda and the Taliban (mandated under resolution 1267). This distinction has long been argued for by independent analysts. It is indeed a long way from Holbrooke’s rhetoric that ‘only good Taliban are dead Taliban’. Bifurcation of these two entities is yet another major American retreat since Secretary Hillary Clinton`s speech to the Asia Society last February in which longstanding American preconditions to talks with the Afghan Taliban were reconfigured as end objectives.
Strategic failure for America is not that its military component in Afghanistan has failed; this has been a foregone conclusion by all serious security analysts since 2002, when America pushed the Afghan militants to the countries bordering Afghanistan. Real fiasco is that structures and institutions essential for incrementally squeezing the space for insurgency have failed to evolve. Even where there have been nominal military successes, a quandary haunts as to the viability of sustainable security, sans overwhelming American firepower and manpower. The Afghan government simply doesn`t have the capacity or ability to hold a fragile country at its own. Ultimately Americans are poised to handover Afghanistan to almost same forces from whom they snatched it a decade ago, and in an almost same status.
Last week President Karzai acknowledged for the first time that Afghanistan and the United States are engaged in peace talks with the Taliban. Though substantive negotiations are going on for over a year and are at a fairly advanced stage, America has underplayed it by saying that contacts are at the initial evaluation stage.
Under these circumstances, credit goes to the visionary approach of the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov who foresaw the importance of regional dynamics towards peace and stability in Afghanistan way back in 1997, to mitigate the ill effects of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan which were, by then, beginning to threaten the stability of the entire region. At that time, collapse of Soviet Union had triggered a number of conflicts in Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, and instability in Afghanistan was reinforcing the conflicts throughout Central Asia and beyond.
To provide structural and institutional support, “6+2” initiative was launched by Uzbekistan in 1999 involving six bordering counties of Afghanistan plus the US and Russia. Other five immediate neighbors of Afghanistan viz Pakistan, Iran, China, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan enthusiastically supported the initiative. In 1999 and 2000 two rounds of peace talks were held in Tashkent, under the patronage of the UN, between representatives of Taliban Government and Northern Alliance of Afghanistan. The six neighboring countries of Afghanistan along with the US and Russia opted to become the guarantors of the peace process between rival factions of Afghanistan. This process was well on its way to conclude a comprehensive agreement, however unfortunately it was interrupted by post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan by foreign troops.
Moving forth, President Karimov proposed a variant of his previous concept to resolve the current impasse on Afghanistan during the Bucharest NATO summit in April 2008; “Since we are speaking about establishing the stability in Afghanistan, along with providing living needs of the Afghan people by using the possibilities of international assistance, it was expedient to resume the negotiation process on achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan in the framework of contact group ‘6+2’, which effectively operated during 1997-2001 with the support of the United Nations”. President Karimov proposed to transform the 6+2 contact group into 6+3 including NATO; he also spoke about the proposal at the United Nations General Assembly’s 65th meeting in 2010.
We need to evaluate this proposal in the context of success story of ‘Shanghai Cooperation Organization’. The SCO started off as a humble entity, created by China to enlist neighbouring states’ cooperation in maintaining stability in its turbulent Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan agreed to work with Beijing to prevent the cross-border population of ethnic Uighurs from mobilizing to challenge Chinese rule. In turn, they gained China’s cooperation in opposing their own separatist movements. Over the years, the SCO has developed an interesting infrastructure for security cooperation.
The SCO’s military and law-enforcement related military drills have become a regular event. Cooperation is not confined to terrorism alone; a number of organizational agreements require member states to target separatists and extremists as well. SCO states are under treaty obligation to honour each other’s blacklists of individuals and organizations accused of terrorism, separatism or extremism. A Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent operates a sophisticated shared intelligence database accessible to all member states. SCO member states have agreed to extradite, and prevent the granting of refugee status to, individuals who are flagged by any member state as a terrorist, separatist or extremist threat.
Uzbekistan’s “6+3” initiative needs to be transposed on SCO’s practical experience to evolve appropriate structures and institutions to suit Afghanistan’s local conditions. There is absolute consensus on the composition of “6”; however “+3” factor needs careful scrutiny. Due to dubious strategy and ambiguous objectives, America has lost its credibility as an honest underwriter of peace in Afghanistan as well as in Asia. Russia’s recent military intervention in Afghanistan on the pretext of anti-narcotics operation drew a rage from Afghans who considered it as a litmus test by Russia on behest of America to explore the possibility of filling of post- America void in Afghanistan. Moreover, NATO is perceived as extension of America’s military power, hence its membership will only enhance the American clout in the “6+3” setup. Furthermore, Afghanistan needs to be associated with the process. Russia and America may be invited to join the initiative as observers.
It would be worthwhile to revise the “+3” component to comprise of Afghanistan, the United Nations and the OIC. Key groups of Taliban may be invited as observers. America may be asked to expedite its withdrawal and the security void may be filled by a UN peace mission composed of contingents drawn from the OIC member states, excluding the “6” and other neighbouring countries of Afghanistan. The “6+3” should find out the causes that have lead to frequent foreign interventions in Afghanistan and recommend measures to avoid recurrence, such measures should be implemented through UNSC resolution under chapter VII of the UN charter.