Hunooz Kabul door ast

The just concluded Kabul Conference ended on a lot of ‘promising’ notes but to translate all those promises into reality will be the real test for Afghanistan. The conference was co-chaired by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and attended by foreign ministers and high-level representatives from over 70 countries. The international community endorsed the Afghan government’s plan to lead security operations in the country by 2014. This may be wishful thinking as the facts on the ground suggest otherwise. The Afghan forces remain weak in the face of the Taliban insurgency. Even with the help of the US-led NATO forces, it has proved an uphill struggle against the redoubtable Taliban. Granted that Afghanistan is a tough terrain but apart from overthrowing the Taliban regime, the international community has not been very successful in bringing about meaningful change on Afghan soil. In fact, the narcotics trade has increased in recent years and corruption is rampant all over the country.

Unlike the grand peace jirga held in Kabul last month that was rocked by rockets landing near the venue, the Kabul Conference went off relatively peacefully – Mr Ban Ki-moon’s flight being diverted following a rocket attack notwithstanding. The conference’s significance cannot be overstated considering how much money and military might have been ‘invested’ in the Afghan war by the west, particularly the US. President Karzai vowed to fight corruption and stressed strengthening the anti-corruption body. Mr Karzai and his government have been accused of massive corruption by Afghans and international donors alike. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have acknowledged Mr Karzai’s efforts to end corruption but maintained that “there are no shortcuts to fighting corruption and improving governance…and the international community expect results”. Ms Clinton’s stress on ‘expecting results’ should give a clear signal to Kabul that the international donors are not very happy with their money going into individuals’ pockets instead of being used on rehabilitation projects.

Despite the west advocating reconciliation with the militants and Mr Karzai hoping that the international community would “back our efforts for peace in Afghanistan”, Ms Clinton cautioned against ‘irreconcilable’ elements. The final communiqué also laid down the same conditions and said that the reconciliation offer would be open to only those “who renounce violence, have no links to international terrorist organisations, respect the [Afghan] constitution and are willing to join in building a peaceful Afghanistan”. There is not much evidence that these conditions have any appeal for the militants, but leaving the door open for those who may wish to come in from the cold is obviously the right thing to do.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that “a stable, peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest”. He also requested Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours to pledge that they would “not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs” and that “their territories are not used for destabilising activities against any country”. It is good to see Mr Qureshi saying the right things for a change but is the Afghan policy really being run by the Foreign Office or by our security establishment? If the latter is calling the shots, then Mr Qureshi’s words do not amount to much. Though the establishment may have changed its tactics and policy due to the changed conditions in Afghanistan, it is no secret that India’s rising influence in Afghanistan has not made it very happy. Thus a proxy rivalry is going on in Afghanistan and unless the west can put a stop to it, hunooz Kabul door ast (it’s still a long way to Kabul).

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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