No more proxy wars in Afghanistan

Starting Monday, 85 countries and 15 international organizations will gather in Bonn, Germany, to mark the 10th anniversary of the international conference that convened after the overthrow of the Taliban government. This convening provides an important opportunity to remove Afghanistan as a pawn from the region’s chess board. A decade after the 2001 Bonn I ...

WOLFGANG RATTAY/AFP/Getty Images
WOLFGANG RATTAY/AFP/Getty Images
WOLFGANG RATTAY/AFP/Getty Images

Starting Monday, 85 countries and 15 international organizations will gather in Bonn, Germany, to mark the 10th anniversary of the international conference that convened after the overthrow of the Taliban government. This convening provides an important opportunity to remove Afghanistan as a pawn from the region's chess board.

A decade after the 2001 Bonn I conference, Bonn II will serve as a ‘reality check' for where things stand today in Afghanistan, including the progress, or lack thereof, on security, economic development, and the on-again, off-again Afghan reconciliation process with the Taliban. Bonn II is also intended to signal a long-term international commitment to Afghanistan, extending beyond the looming 2014 withdrawal of U.S and NATO military forces.

Equally important, the conferenceshould focus on what kind of structures to leave behind to assure at least asemblance of stability for Afghanistan and the region. The international community did not do this after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, with disastrous, destabilizing consequences that continue to this day.

Starting Monday, 85 countries and 15 international organizations will gather in Bonn, Germany, to mark the 10th anniversary of the international conference that convened after the overthrow of the Taliban government. This convening provides an important opportunity to remove Afghanistan as a pawn from the region’s chess board.

A decade after the 2001 Bonn I conference, Bonn II will serve as a ‘reality check’ for where things stand today in Afghanistan, including the progress, or lack thereof, on security, economic development, and the on-again, off-again Afghan reconciliation process with the Taliban. Bonn II is also intended to signal a long-term international commitment to Afghanistan, extending beyond the looming 2014 withdrawal of U.S and NATO military forces.

Equally important, the conferenceshould focus on what kind of structures to leave behind to assure at least asemblance of stability for Afghanistan and the region. The international community did not do this after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, with disastrous, destabilizing consequences that continue to this day.

The participants at Bonn II would do well to remind themselves of the Bonn Agreement of 2001, which contains a request to the United Nations from all the Afghan groups represented at the conference to "take the necessary measures to guarantee [emphasis added] the national sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Afghanistan as well as the non-interference by foreign countries in Afghanistan’s internal affairs."

The Afghan groups knew what they were asking for, since they realize better than any non-Afghans that the root cause of most of their troubles for centuries has been the rivalries, intrigues, and ‘great games’ played by outsiders in their affairs.

Belatedly, a start in this direction was made at the recent "Heartof Asia" regional conference in Istanbul. For the first time all the major countries of the wider region surrounding Afghanistan were in attendance — from China to Iran, Russia to Saudi Arabia, and others in between, including Pakistan and India.

One report said this grouping read like a ‘who’s who’ of potential rivals if Afghanistan descends further into civil wars backed by outsiders. The fact that Pakistan, which has had a strong aversion to sitting with India around a table to discuss Afghanistan, agreed to the regional format in Istanbul was notable. Unless India and Pakistan’s mutual suspicions and colliding interests in Afghanistan can be addressed, the prospects for a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan over the long term are dim.

The result of the conference was a document establishing "The Istanbul Process." It acknowledges that the only way to work toward Afghanistan’s stability is through the commitment of all regional powers not to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. It included a statement of principles of regional cooperation listing political, economic and other confidence building measures to combat terrorism, control drug trafficking, and pursue enhanced trade and commerce across the region.

Now for the harder part, which has become harder still because of Pakistan’s recent decision not to attend the Bonn conference in protest of the NATO bombing of two border posts that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, a decision several countries have tried to reverse.

While an indispensable first step, the "Istanbul Process" will not, by itself, solve Afghanistan’s meddling problems.  It needs to be followed by concrete steps, especially a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the commitments assumed by the 13 countries that signed the Istanbul document. 

Other issues will need to be addressed: Who will deal with complaints of violations? Should there be an international peacekeeping force of some sort? And how to settle, once and for all, the definite boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan, since an undefined border is a breeding ground for suspicion and temptation for further interference and intervention.

Here the United Nations can play acrucial role. The "Istanbul Process" rightly emphasizes the central role of the UN in the area of maintenance of international peace and security. It is the only organization with the requisite credentials, experience and expertise to undertake this task.

The upcoming Bonn II conference should take this UN endorsement one important step further. After welcoming the establishment of the "Istanbul Process" and offering its full support for this regional initiative, Bonn II should call on the UN Secretary General to appoint an international facilitator to consult with all the parties about the best possible, and widely acceptable, way to finally respond to what the Afghans themselves called for ten years ago at the first Bonn conference, namely "to take the necessary measures to guaranteethe non-interference by foreign countries in Afghanistan’s internal affairs."

The Afghans have another way of putting this. At their 2010 national peace jirga, (or grand gathering), they said Afghanistan did not want to become again "a playground for regional conflicts." Now isthe time to work with the Afghans to close that "playground," for good.

Karl F. Inderfurth served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs and is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Chinmaya R. Gharekhan served as India’s special envoy for the Middle East and is a former U.N. Under Secretary General.

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