Report: Time for a ‘Diplomatic Surge’ in Afghanistan

BY Stella Clingmon  March 25, 2011 at 5:58 PM EDT


Afghan President Hamid Karzai (Shah Marai /AFP/Getty Images)

A group of 15 prominent former diplomats from nine countries says the time is now to begin a diplomatic push for a solution in Afghanistan that includes negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

After nearly 10 years since the start of the war in Afghanistan, the NATO mission there has reached a stalemate, making the time right for a political solution instead, according to a report released this week by the Century Foundation’s International Task Force on Afghanistan.

The report emphasizes the need for a neutral facilitator “designed through the United Nations” to work toward a negotiated settlement among all parties involved, including President Hamid Karzai’s government and its allies, the Taliban and its supporters in Pakistan, and other regional and international bodies.

“The United States has been holding back from direct negotiations, hoping the ground war will shift decisively in its favor. But we believe the best moment to start the process toward reconciliation is now, while force levels are near their peak,” wrote the task force’s co-chairmen Thomas Pickering, former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Lakhdar Brahimi, former U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, in a New York Times opinion piece.

The report said any settlement would need to require the Taliban and its leadership to sever ties with al-Qaida, denounce violence and support the Afghan constitution. It also noted that an agreement likely would include the withdrawal of foreign troops — an insurgency demand.

While the international community continues its efforts to disrupt terrorist networks and drug trafficking, Pickering said at Wednesday’s release of the report, the “central focus of a negotiation will be among Afghans about the future governance of their country.”

The report came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced Tuesday that Afghan forces would begin taking over security in three provinces starting in July, relegating the NATO forces to a “supporting role.”

“The people of Afghanistan no longer desire to see others defend their country for them,” Karzai told listeners at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan in Kabul.

In light of recent strategies put forth by the Obama administration, Pickering said the diplomatic approach would be built around a “process of facilitation” and could begin now if all parties are on board.

“A military surge and an economic surge need to be complimented by a diplomatic surge to take advantage of all of the progress that has been made,” he said.

In a speech last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke of “political reconciliation” with members of the Taliban.

“Both we and the Afghans believe that the security and governance gains produced by the military and civilian surges have created an opportunity to get serious about a responsible reconciliation process, led by Afghans and supported by intense regional diplomacy and strong U.S. backing,” she said.

But some analysts say achieving reconciliation with the more militant elements of the Taliban would be impossible. Thomas Johnson, director of the Program for Culture & Conflict Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School, said compromise with leaders in the Afghan Taliban, the Quetta Shura, who are now based in Pakistan, seems unlikely.

“The Quetta Shura who are going to be key in all this are not insurgents, they’re jihadists. I have very little faith they are going to be willing to negotiate,” he said.

Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus said Wednesday in London that while agrees with political reconciliation, it must originate from Afghans themselves. “This has to be Afghan-led, this cannot be ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), it cannot be individual countries leading this,” he said.

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