Stability in Afghanistan: Beyond the Bonn Conference I

A critical analysis of what Bonn Conference decided and how the decisions could be implemented in future course of developments inside Afghanistan as well as in the region.

The Bonn Conference, chaired by Afghanistan, hosted by Germany and attended by 85 countries and 15 international organizations, on the December renewed the mutual commitment to a stable, democratic and prosperous future for the Afghan people. Ironically, the most relevant country erstwhile considered being indispensable for peace, reconciliation and satiability in Afghanistan was not part of the `renewed commitment’ courtesy NATO/US attacks on Salala Check posts killing 24 Pakistani and consequently forcing Pakistan to boycott Bonn Conference. However, Pakistan was missed by all especially the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said that presence of Pakistan should have benefited us all. A critical analysis of what Bonn Conference decided and how the decisions could be implemented is imperative for future course of developments inside Afghanistan as well as in the region.

The Bonn conference discussed future perspectives of political, security, economic and development perspectives of Afghanistan. The foreign ministers attending the Bonn conference like every one else were conscious of the real challenge inside Afghanistan i.e security problem. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are supposed to take charge of more areas of the country thereby taking security responsibility of 50 per of Afghan population by the end of February 2012 and all over the country by 2014. Obviously, Afghanistan needed full-fledged military and police forces with capacity and training at the international standards and even better because of the persistent terror threats the country has been facing. Presently, the estimates are to bring the ANSF at a total strength of 3, 52,000.

The current strength of ANSF is over 306000 (over 170,500 Afghan National Army and over 135500 Afghan National Police). The US/NATO has already agreed to make an increase of the Afghan National Army growth target to 195000 by November 2012 and for the Afghan National Police to 157000 by Nov. 2012. There is no doubt that the international community pledged at Bonn conference to support their (ANSF) training and equipping, financing and development of capabilities beyond the end of transition period (2014). The real challenge for Afghanistan as well as the international community is to make ANSF a sustainable force with required financial chunks for salaries and concurrent expenditures. On financing for salaries etc., the Bonn conference also made it clear that ‘international community declares its intent to continue to assist in their financing, with the understanding that over the coming years, this share will be gradually reduced commensurate with Afghanistan’s needs and its increasing domestic revenues generation capacity. So, the real challenge is how to bridge a huge gap between Afghan revenue and security spending after 2014. A high-level European official maintained that the allies are spending around $12 billion on the said account where the total Afghan revenue for the last fiscal year stood at $1.5 billion.

“Peace talks will be held only with those whose home address is known in Afghanistan and the address can easily be verified.”
A smooth functioning of political process under the arms of ongoing peace and political reconciliation process can be one answer from avoiding huge spending or break down of the `infant’ modern state of Afghanistan. The Bonn conference defined the bottom lines in this direction making certain responsibilities on the Afghan people, Afghan government and the region. It asked the Afghan government to lead and own this process and make it inclusive representing the legitimate interests of all the people of Afghanistan regardless of gender or social status. The Bonn conference enjoined upon the people of Afghanistan to renounce violence, breaking ties to international terrorism and respecting the Afghan constitution including its human rights provisions. Similarly, the Bonn conference asked the region to respect and support the peace process and its outcome. ‘An outcome of the peace process respecting these principles will receive the full support of the international community’, the Bonn conference said.

Contrary to the principles outlines by the Bonn Conference, the subsequent events do not seem moving to the envisioned principles. There are inbuilt hurdles in moving towards a genuine reconciliation. The Afghan Jirga held in Kabul before the Bonn conference on the question of relations with the United States after 2014 withdrawals from Afghanistan, laid down a strange condition for reconciliation within Afghanistan. Section 68 of the recommendation of the Jirga made it mandatory that peace talks will be held only with those whose home address is known in Afghanistan and the address can easily be verified. Secondly, if reconciliation is to the Afghan-owned, then President Hamid Karzai himself did not know as to how Afghan Talibaan are opening their office in Qatar? The United States seem bypassing Afghan government and the region in its pursuits to have direct talks with Talibaan, a glaring violation of the principles set by Bonn Conference.

The question of relevance of Pakistan and its paradoxical absence in the Bonn Conference is necessary to explain here. Pakistan boycotted the Bonn Conference to protest not against the hosts i.e Germany but primarily against the United States. Pakistan is crucial for Afghan settlement not only because it provides crucial supply routes to Afghans, NATO and allies but also it has stakes for stability inside Afghanistan. Due to NATO attacks on Salala, Joint Commission between Pakistan and Afghanistan in reconciliation still remains suspended; Pakistan and the United States cooperation is put off and even the US Special Representative for AF-Pak Mark Grossman was denied a visit to Islamabad in January. Now the parliament in Pakistan is to define new terms of engagement with the United States. However, the international community did compensate absence of Pakistan by saying that Istanbul Conference (held before Bonn) had ensured building regional block for cooperation for Afghan scenario.

Despite certain inherent weaknesses including absence of Pakistan, the Bonn conference had substantial achievements. After 10 years of war and violence in Afghanistan, the international community still expressed its commitment for their partnership from a Decade of Transition to a Decade of Transformation (2015-2025) in Afghanistan. The Bonn Conference agreed on a future course of action this year for ensuring security and economic/financial needs of Afghanistan. The international community will define a clear vision and appropriately funded plan for the ANSF in the forthcoming NATO Summit in May this year in Chicago. Similarly, an international ministerial conference in July this year in Tokyo will coordinate international economic assistance through the Transition period and address Afghanistan’s strategy for sustainable development and regional economic coopration.

By: Shaukat Piracha

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