Towards a regional settlement in Afghanistan (Redux squared)

February 24, 2010

arghandabRegular readers of this blog will know we have been talking for a long time about finding a regional solution to Afghanistan. The argument — much touted during President Barack Obama’s election campaign — was that you could stabilise the country if you persuaded the many regional players with a stake in Afghanistan — including Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia and China — to cooperate rather than compete in finding a political settlement to what was effectively an unwinnable war.

The argument looked at best utopian, at worst a description of the delicate balance of power in the early 20th century that was meant to keep the peace but in reality led to the outbreak of World War One.  It is now resurfacing again as public opinion in western countries — including in staunch U.S. ally Britain — turns against the long war in Afghanistan.

As discussed in this analysis, we are now seeing some fresh signs of regional cooperation. The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan hold talks on Thursday to try to break a diplomatic freeze which followed the 2008 attack on Mumbai. And Pakistan and Iran may have cooperated on the arrest of Jundollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi.

The utopian argument may finally about to have its day. That said, none of this is following a U.S. script. So we could also  see — as happened before 1914 — the best efforts at balancing out every nation’s interests turning out for the worst.

(File photo: Children in Arghandab, Afghanistan)


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It continues to amaze me how every issue in Afghanistan is considered only in relation to how it effects Western interests and their plans to quit. I have been scouring the various articles and no one is talking of the Afghan people and their interests. Its all about US plans to exit, the timetable and rising disenchantment with the war. They are all looking at a solution to the war, not Afghanistan.

So we get Kashmir thrown in, drugs and warlords, but not what went wrong these lat 7 years. How many times was Kashmir mentioned by the US as a cause of instability in the Afghan region? How often did they discuss clashing Indian and Pakistani interests before they walked into Afghanistan? Now every self appointed anlayst and commentator is talking just that and nothing else. Isn’t it strange that India, just a few hundred miles away is considered a problem. And those from thousands of miles away come and go looking after their own interests. And that is perfectly justified. They are part of the problem still, they want to be part of the solution…..people in this part of the world have infinite patience, we are watching but not holding our breath. The outcome is already known. Quit and run one fine morning.

‘”Only the countries of the region can decide whether they want to build on the multitude of existing regional bodies, or create something new and Afghanistan-specific,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said last week.’ Pity Jack Straw and Blair didn’t seem to want anyone to interfere with their plans 8 years ago and were deaf to any talk of restraint on their part. Similarly Coll is talking of the US being stymied by India’s refusal to let the US dominate talks or interfere and the slow nature of Indo Pak talks. Yet, he got the bottom line right when he said “The U.S. doesn’t seem to be able to construct a breakthrough.” Amen.

I think that what is urgently needed is to get the UN involved more deeply in everything. Leave it to the UN to negotiate and confer with the regional parties and then finally suggest an amicable and just solution. Let the others chill out and take a backseat. Will the Security Council with more or less the same culprits calling the shots allow this to happen? Only if they do, there is hope.

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