Tag Archives: Bonn Conference 2

Irrationality at its Worst

The Afghanistan Regional Studies Centre's forum in Kabul to discuss the Bonn 2 conference. Photo Pajhwok

My Daily Outlook op-ed published on August 06

A roundtable discussion was organized by the Afghanistan Regional Studies Center this Tuesday in Kabul to talk about the Bonn Conference. Some political analysts, most of whom were pro-Karzai folks, made speeches about the coming conference. They were saying that only the Afghan government representatives should attend the second Bonn Conference, which will be held in Germany on December 5, 2011. Among them, Zubair Shafiqi, editor of the state-run Wesa newspaper was the most aggressive. He was saying only the official delegation of the Afghan Government should attend the Bonn Conference. His point was that if civil society organizations, political forces and other institutions are ‘allowed’ to join the gathering in Bonn, it will create further problems for Afghanistan.

Besides making rage against the media discussions about the possible agenda and objectives to be discussed at the Bonn Conference, Mr. Shafiqi made very irrational and unjust remarks about Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) and its director Thomas Ruttig. In a derogatory tone, he was saying a German civil society organization led by Thomas Ruttig with an office in Qala Fatahullah has started talks with civil society organizations. Zubair Shafiqi accused that this group [AAN and other civil society organizations] want to propose a federal system in Afghanistan at the Bonn conference.

Mr. Shafiqi has been writing editorials on the state-run Wesa accusing AAN with such comments since last two weeks. I have read more than three editorials in Pashto on Wesa in this regard just in the past week. In one editorial, he had accused Thomas Ruttig of promoting the idea of federalism and making it to be part of the agenda in Bonn conference. Shafiqi calls it a conspiracy with international support.
This gathering on Tuesday was a meeting of mostly pro-Karzai folks, while the state-media reported it as a conference of ‘Afghan experts and analysts’. It’s unfair when local and international press outlets report such events under a generalized dubbing.

I have read most pieces by Thomas Ruttig. AAN is one of the most respected research organizations on Afghanistan, not only in my personal view, but according to most Afghan and foreign journalists I interact with. They publish policy research papers and blog posts on different topics. From what I understand, the accusations of Zubair Shafiqi are irrational and against the facts. Recently there was a post on AAN by Thomas Ruttig discussing representation of Afghan civil society in the Bonn conference. His commentary was about an interview of German Special Envy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Michael Steiner on TOLO TV. I have not come across any post by Thomas discussing federalism for Afghanistan. Even if he does, what is wrong about it?

In the post published on June 08 on AAN, Thomas Ruttig discusses and suggests the very rational and right objectives for the coming conference. It contains nothing of a ‘conspiracy’ against the ‘interests’ of Afghanistan, as Wesa Editor Zubair Shafiqi accuses. One doesn’t understand what really has pissed off Zubair so much. Following are excerpts from Ruttig’s post:

“The ongoing preparations for Bonn 2, with multilateral working groups on the three Bonn agenda points (civilian aspects of transition; post-2014 international involvement and ‘political process’, i.e. ‘reconciliation’), are government-only. Civil society is not involved formally, although these preparations are much more important than the conference itself. Why is the process of (s)electing Afghan civil society reps not given to one or – better – a group of Afghan umbrella organizations the West knows and funds since years anyway? Why, again, are there attempts to hand this over to German or other organizations? The Berlin government has approached non-governmental organizations and foundations to organize a ‘civil society event’ – working title ‘At the bottom of the Petersberg’ – on its behalf. It is not known yet whether any of them will agree to do it. And why such top-down approach again? Don’t Kabul and Berlin want a real democratic and inclusive process, prefer to handpick their own favourites and banish the rest to side-‘events’?

Instead of hearing speeches of some dozen international delegations, the […] conference should devote a significant part of its time (or an additional day, both preferably before the government-level talks start) to listening to representatives of Afghan civil society. In contrast from previous conferences – from Bonn [1] to The Hague [2009] –, they should sit at the main table and not be confined to venues in a secure distance with minimal time allotted to present their ideas. And governments should make sure that high-ranking people listen to them, not just desk officers who, at most, can take notes [as it was the case in Berlin 2004]. Even if the remaining time is short, civil society representatives that do not only speak for themselves or their particular organizations can still be determined. The international community – in particular the UN and the European Union […] – should take urgent steps and allocate resources for it.

Possible implementers are umbrella groups like the Afghan Civil Society Forum, ANCB, ACBAR, the Afghan Women’s and the Human Rights Network with their country-wide networks […] – preferably in cooperation with each other. Their member groups as well as ‘traditional’ civil society (local shuras etc.) could be invited on the provincial or at least the regional level by the UNAMA offices there, to trigger the process. In these meetings, priority issues to be discussed in [Bonn] and delegates could be determined for a gathering in Kabul that, in turn, would send a delegation to [Bonn] that is not hand-picked by the host country. This staggered process would ensure that not only Kabul-based groups speak for the whole of Afghanistan.”

According to Zubair Shafiqi, all those who write or talk on topics like proposing or discussing a federal system for Afghanistan are agents of foreigners and promoting conspiracy. On this page of Daily Outlook Afghanistan, I have written several op-eds discussing and supporting the idea of a federal system as a viable solution for the political instability and crisis in Afghanistan. And the logic of Zubair Shafiqi makes me an agent of foreigners making conspiracy.

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Why a Breakthrough is Unlikely at Bonn II

On 5 December, on the tenth anniversary of the Bonn Agreement, Germany will host the Bonn II conference. A preparatory meeting was held in Kabul on 27 June 2011 with representatives from more than 50 countries, under the auspices of the International Contact Group (ICG). At the meetings it was decided that Afghanistan will chair the conference and that there will be one delegation from Kabul. This means that President Karzai will chair the conference. He will also decide about the composition of the Afghan delegation. All previous high-level conferences on Afghanistan have been chaired by the UN and/or the host country, with the Afghan government as a co-chair. Still, it is hard to believe that Karzai will really be setting the agenda.

Read more here my guest post for Afghanistan Analysts Network.

 

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The Dark Clouds

My Outlook op-ed on June 09

There are six months to December, when Germany on the 10th Anniversary of the Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan will host the Bonn Conference 2. We had heard about it for the first time last year in November and thought it will be another conference like the ones in Paris, London and Kabul to, as we say in Dari slang, “get together, sit, talk and walk away”, but since the deadline for withdrawal of international troops is getting close, the US and NATO want to try a political settlement to end the conflict. There are rumors in the diplomatic circles of Kabul that representatives—on foreign ministry level or heads of state—of over 50 countries and the UN will participate in the Bonn Conference 2. But more importantly, the host and other stakeholders are trying to ensure a Taliban representation at the conference. However, it seems like things are going as last-minute preparation for such a decisive event and nothing is clear in the dark clouds ahead.

Some analysts say it was a mistake that the international community and Afghans did not include the Taliban in the first Bonn Conference in 2001. But it is premature to place high hopes about Taliban. Nowadays, all the efforts are on direct talks with insurgents, and there have been contacts between the US and some Taliban representatives from the Quetta Shura. Pakistan is trying to sell that they can persuade the Haqqani Network too for the talks. The US and NATO want to use the Bonn Conference 2 as a platform and decisive event on the negotiations with Taliban and a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan.

All these moves in the dark clouds have caused a political scurry among Afghans. Recently there have been several meetings among the bigwigs of opposition forces. Some days ago, a meeting was held in Kabul among all the former Mujahideen leaders and current opposition forces discussing a grand alliance in the wake of coming events and decisive political situation. The meeting in Kabul was followed by a gathering in Mazar. The big shots in these meetings include former vice president Ahmad Zia Masoud, Haji Muhaqiq, Abdullah Abdullah, General Dostum, Amrullah Saleh, Ismail Khan, Ata Muhammad Noor and others. There is no formal unanimity yet, but a grand alliance is in making. The agenda and purpose are to make a strong voice and influence in this dark process.

With the alliance of all opposition forces getting wider and stronger, the legitimacy of Karzai Government’s decisions becomes questionable, as he is dealing it all like intra-tribal affairs. It’s very important for the Afghan Government to make its decisions on unanimous understanding among all factions of the Afghan society. Mr. Karzai comes from Kandahar, where we all know Taliban have more support than him. Even his vice presidents are not confident and fully supporting Karzai’s unilateral moves. In such a situation, once all the opposition forces team up together with a strong political movement and announce their agenda and stance, what will be the mandate of President Karzai on all these affairs?

For the international community, they must be reminded that Taliban have much more serious problems with the Afghans who fought against them for years, rather than the international troops. There is no homework for the coming Bonn Conference. The hosts and international stakeholders must ensure it will not be a gathering with participation of hand-picked Afghans mostly decided by the Karzai Government who has no national political mandate now.

Before the Taliban come to an agreement with the international community, it’s important that they should come to an understanding with Afghans who resisted them for years; otherwise it’s no solution to the conflict. The international troops have already announced withdrawal by 2014. They are not the problem for Taliban; rather the bigger challenges are internal in Afghanistan. The ineffective Peace Council should also bear in mind that it’s not only the international community having problems with Taliban, but more serious problems with Taliban are from inside Afghanistan.

The US, UK and other allies should support big changes for a stable Afghanistan after the transition period, and the Bonn Conference can review the failures and discuss the fault lines. The transition itself is a vague process without any proper strategy with all risks and options considered. A viable solution in Afghanistan is a change in the entire system of territorial administration, and political mechanism.

When the Taliban have more support in the home province of the President than him, how could the international community win hearts and minds of local people?

The solution for a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan is decentralization of power in a federal parliamentary system where territorial administrative regions should be restructured with more autonomy to the regions. This way, Taliban can try democracy and come to power peacefully in the areas they have larger support, while in parts of country where people think of them as unacceptable stone-age folks, let a liberal and moderate society flourish. The current system has no mechanism and space for the two sides to agree on coexistence.

This could be a practical solution for long-term stability in Afghanistan and the region. The hosts of the Bonn Conference 2 and international stakeholders should make sure all factions of Afghan society, including all political groups, civil society, and the forgotten other-half of us—women participate, not the hand-picked ones or based on decisions of the under-mandated Karzai Government. The agenda of the Conference should have space for Afghans to openly discuss the fault lines of our current system. It’s the desire of majority—all opposition forces—and the internal solution for Taliban to be acceptable by all factions of the society.

All Afghan factions should be asked for the agenda of the Bonn Conference 2 and it should not be an event only dedicated to ensuring a table for the Taliban at the conference.

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