London Conference on Afghanistan

Since the withdrawal of Nato and Isaf forces from the war-torn Afghanistan is in the offing, and the country is entering into yet another transformative period, a grand international conference, the London Conference on Afghanistan, where the world met to discuss how to help tackle Afghanistan’s many problems, was held in London on December 4, 2014. The Conference was jointly hosted by the British and Afghan governments. In total, 74 international delegations were invited, including 59 partner countries as well as multilateral organizations, NGOs and representatives of civil society. Prime Minister of Pakistan Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, was one of the key speakers at the conference.

Years of bloodshed and grim political and economic fluctuations have shifted Afghanistan as well as the whole region especially Pakistan decades back and have created a paralyzing and fragile situation for both the countries. The Conference is going to play a pivotal role in development and reconstruction of Afghanistan and will also help ensure peace, security and stability in the region.

The London Conference was the first opportunity for the new Afghan Government, the International Community, Pakistan, and wider stakeholders, to reaffirm collective commitments to Afghanistan’s future. Though it was to serve as a follow-up event to the 2012 meeting in Tokyo, where allies pledged $16 billion to help rebuild and stabilize Afghanistan, the gap between commitment and actual release of funds was so big that officials in London refrained from discussing how much out of that money Kabul has so far received.

In the security perspective, this conference was held at a time when Afghanistan is going through a critical security situation. The Taliban have intensified attacks against foreign and Afghan forces, which have raised serious questions over the Afghan National Army’s professional credibility to protect the country from insurgents.

On the other hand, London Conference has once again highlighted Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process as concerns are growing about the emerging security challenges that Afghanistan would face with the withdrawal of most of the foreign forces by the year end. Speaking at the conference Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, reiterated his country’s support to Afghanistan’s quest for peace. He said:

“I shared with President Ghani my vision of a comprehensive and enduring partnership between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which contributes to the security and prosperity of our two nations and reinforces efforts for peace and development in the region.”

He also emphasised that Pakistan would follow up the Heart of Asia-Istanbul process to strengthen Afghanistan’s ability to stand on its own feet after the West withdraws. Besides this, in his meeting with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, on the sidelines of the Conference, Mr Sharif pledged that he would not allow the Pakistani soil to be used for terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

Signs that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan may be on an upward trajectory have been evident ever since the election of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. Apart from the usual exchanges of pleasantries and promises of cooperation, there have also been tangible efforts at working for each other’s benefits. Pakistan’s operation in North Waziristan has been so successful in disrupting the Haqqani Network that even the US — normally accusing Pakistan of supporting them — have taken note. Afghanistan and the US, in reciprocation, finally seem to be taking seriously the presence of TTP head Mullah Fazlullah in the border regions and even launched a drone attack targeting him. All of this added weight to the supportive words delivered by Nawaz Sharif at the Conference.

For Pakistani and Afghan leaders to publicly pledge cooperation is routine but this time they did not try to undermine each other in private. Perhaps the realisation has set in that with the US beginning its troop withdrawal, both countries will now have to work together for the sake of their survival. The TTP and Afghan Taliban may be distinct entities but they operate across the same porous border and both will thrive unless coordinated action is taken against them.

This is also the moment of truth for us. Perhaps we have allowed the problem to fester for too long and no longer have the capacity to decisively influence the Frankenstein we have nurtured. But we must realise that every day that passes will reduce our influence further and allow the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate further. There is a reasonable resolution available. It is the road map that Afghanistan’s High Peace Council brought to Pakistan in November 2012 and which envisaged that to start with, the Kabul government could recognise the political reality of the support the Taliban enjoyed — a recent credible Asia Foundation survey shows that one-third of Afghans still sympathise with the Taliban — by giving them such non-elected offices as district and provincial governorships and then let them participate in the next round of elections.

Afghanistan faces formidable challenges. Meeting them requires long-term commitments and sustained realistic strategies to root out corruption, combat terrorism and strengthen good governance and the rule of law, build the foundations for sustainable and inclusive productivity and growth, enhance regional dialogue and cooperation, progress in social development including health, sanitation and education, particularly in rural areas, and strengthening human rights — all easier said than done.

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