AAN continues commenting on the Century Foundation’s Afghanistan Task Force report on ‘Negotiating Peace’. Today, Barbara J. Stapleton(*) points to the issue of (non-)permanent US bases in Afghanistan, to Hillary Clinton’s Asia Society speech that turned ‘red lines’ into an ’end state’, to Pakistan’s role and to the idea to deploy UN blue helmets after a negotiate settlement.
References to a ‘compromise peace’ or ‘peace settlement’ in the Century Foundation report and international references in Kabul to a ‘negotiated settlement’ imply a sense of finality belied by Afghanistan’s recent and dramatic history of failed attempts at power sharing.
The executive summary of the report highlights the withdrawal of foreign forces as “an essential component of the settlement” but reportedly the US government has recently formalised its request for “non permanent” military bases in Afghanistan, including Shindand, south of Herat and close to the Iranian border, which if correct and agreed to by the Afghan government, must militate against Iranian support for what is viewed as the crucial regional dimension to chances of a lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile Pakistani commentators (read Dr Maleeha Lodhi, ‘Uncertain Endgame’, The News, 29 March 2011 here) stress the continuing and confusing split between military and civilian lines of the US government over negotiations with the Taliban. The latter are seen by most international stakeholders and some leading analysts as a key part of the equation of a security transition that has been largely premised on the efficacy of the Afghan security forces. The process of building up both the numbers and quality of the ANSF continues to be highly problematic however.
Lodhi focused on aspects of US Secretary of State Clinton’s speech to the Asia Society on 18 February in which the US government’s three red lines for the Taliban (the renunciation of violence, severance from al-Qaeda and abiding by the Afghan constitution) “were no longer described as pre-conditions but as objectives – as “necessary outcomes of any negotiation”” This shift appears to have been welcomed by Pakistan if this article is anything to go by and conceivably constituted a US step towards Pakistan’s calls for negotiations to start now (rather than later) – a position also upheld by experts on Afghanistan such as Gilles Dorronsorro who believes that time is running out for any political settlement.
The Tripartite meetings between Washington, Islamabad and Kabul are an important mechanism for furthering the process of drawing Pakistan into the peace process. Hence the sense of tangible frustration in Washington last month over the Raymond Davies affair – the CIA contractor involved in a shootout in Lahore -, which itself may have been generated by elements within the ISI seeking to undermine progress being made. (The planned February Tripartite meeting was cancelled due to the Pakistani government’s continued detention of Davies despite the US officially claiming his diplomatic immunity.)
The central question of how any power sharing agreement in Afghanistan would be upheld is addressed in the Century Foundation report via “a UN monitoring and peacekeeping presence to support the implementation of the settlement.”
Comparable intractable conflicts resolved by the international community are cited in Chapter 1 of the report and include the example of Cambodia. For this observer who covered the 1993 Cambodian elections (held under the auspices of UNTAC) as a stringer for the BBC World Service, this raises some alarm. Comparisons may be odious but to the uncomfortable similarities between the Paris Peace Agreement (on Cambodia) and the Bonn Agreement (on Afghanistan), whereby the former saw Cambodian factions retain their weapons rather than being cantoned (as designated in the PPA), one can add personal impressions of the military forces donated by the international community to the UN effort in Cambodia. Rather than inspiring confidence in their peacekeeping abilities exemplified by the failure to fulfil key aspects of the Paris Peace Agreement, they were instead reminiscent of the bored soldier that in former days were commonly seen guarding foreign embassies in the third world.
(*) Barbara J. Stapleton worked in Kabul as ACBAR’s Advocacy and Policy Coordinator from 2002 to 2006 and as a senior political adviser in the Office of the Special Representative of the EU for Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010. She is also an AAN member.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020