Can Istanbul Chart an Afghan Roadmap?

Nov 5, 2011

Anwesha Ghosh, an Mphil fellow in the Institute of Foreign Policy Studies( University of Calcutta) talks about the systemic in the wake of Instanbul Conference.

The Istanbul Conference held in early November 2011 can be seen as one of the many attempts of international community to evolve a consensus based mechanism that will ensure stability and prosperity in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Previously London Conference of 2010 and International Conference on Afghanistan  held in Hague in 2009 also attempted to chart new course for the future of Afghanistan and brought together representatives from different countries having serious interest in a ‘peaceful and stable’ Afghanistan. Istanbul meet in a way is a little more focused as it has to essentially address the period starting from 2014 that is when the phased withdrawal of international combat forces from Afghanistan begins- a goal endangered by strengthening Taliban forces, a weak Afghan Government, rising militant attacks and contravening concerns of regional players. The core component of “Security and Cooperation in the Heart of Asia” was regional and that was evident from the representation of 14 regional countries including Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and five Central Asian Republics among others. Selection of the host country is also interesting, as Turkey is a part of Afghanistan’s extended neighborhood and also shares a strong bond with Pakistan, an immediate neighbor of Afghanistan whose role is extremely crucial as far as regional initiative is concerned.

India is a new entrant in the league, as in the previous year Pakistan had successfully weighed in with its close allie and host, Turkey, to keep India out, citing “national security” and maintaining its old position that it needed to have friendly government in Kabul as a defence against India.Pakistan was uncomfortable with India enjoying similar status in the contact group on Afghanistan. With not too many buyers of this argument and especially both US along with Turkey pushing for a regional framework that includes all Afghanistan’s neighbors, India’s entry was patent.

Three core issues have been addressed- Firstly, forbidding Afghanistan’s emergence as a battleground for regional rivals in the days to come. Secondly, deal with national security of Afghanistan which is under serious threat of destabilization from the Taliban and finally, ensuring that sufficient economic opportunities are generated in the country, so that Afghanistan can stand on its own feet there by keeping away future generation of Afghans from taking up arms or indulging in terrorism and drug-trafficking. In a way, this endevour wants to assess whether regional countries are ready for more responsibility both in terms of dealing with security and economic issues in Afghanistan. Another important challenge in post 2014 scenario would stem from the issue of declining interest of the western powers in the region. It is quite likely that the money that was available in the last decade might not be at disposal in the coming years. Under such scenario, two pertinent questions that can bother the international community are: how will a country with an ever growing appetite for foreign funding, be able to sustain itself economically? Secondly, how will Afghanistan cope with the security situation once the foreign forces start to pull out?

At the wake of withdrawal, it suits US interest perfectly if some of the regional countries volunteer to share some of her responsibilities in the country. US push for the New Silk Route concept i.e an international network of trade, commerce and energy corridors that would link Central and South Asia with Afghanistan at the center, might provide significant incentives for the regional players to get on board. With uneasy dynamics between countries like Afghanistan-Pakistan, Pakistan-India or even the all time low equation between Pakistan and US-how that could possibly materialize is a different question altogether. China’s investment in the country (especially energy sector) has increased significantly in the recent years, and going by the country’s trend it will only increase in future and ensuring security of her investments in Afghanistan will be in her future agenda. China could now become the next crutch for a Pakistan that lurches from crisis to crisis. Beijing is keen on whatever energy it can obtain from Central Asia, via Afghanistan and for this it expects Pakistan’s help. Moreover there are others waiting to enter Afghanistan, to stake a claim to its mineral riches, much of which is still in the realm of speculation- and this includes Russia and Iran.

Afghanistan at every given opportunity has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of supporting Taliban militants. Unsurprisingly, the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin told reporters that Pakistan had to move beyond “expressions of commitments” and undertake concrete measures, including action against the supposedly pro-ISI Haqqani network, in order to repose trust. Hamid Karzai reiterated that the killing of former Afghan President and peace negotiator, Burhanuddin Rabbani had severely disrupted the government sponsored peace process. Karzai also ruled out peace talks with Taliban untill he knows where to contact them and till then he would like to talk to Pakistan in order to find  solution to this problem. With ample proofs of Pakistan-Taliban ‘partnership’ at the world’s disposal, with this stand, Karzai might be just knocking at the right address, however weather ‘solution of problem’ is forthcoming or not is a question that is likely to remain unanswered exactly like the question whether Istanbul can provide a roadmap for Afghanistan’s problems.

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