Last December in Bonn, Germany hosted and Afghanistan chaired an international conference on “Afghanistan and the International Community: From Transition to the Transformation Decade.” Eighty-five countries and 15 international organizations participated in the Conference to celebrate their shared 10-year achievements, and to recommit to consolidating and sustaining these achievements beyond 2014 into a decade of transformation until 2024.
With the exception of Pakistan, the 100 countries and international organizations in the region and beyond recognized that “the main threat to Afghanistan’s security and stability is terrorism, and that this threat also endangers regional and global peace and security.” They further recognized “the regional dimensions of terrorism and extremism, including terrorist safe havens, and emphasized the need for sincere and result-oriented regional cooperation towards a region free from terrorism in order to secure Afghanistan and safeguard [their] common security against the terrorist threat.”
To implement this and their other commitments in the areas of governance, socio-economic development, an Afghan-led peace process, and regional cooperation, they reaffirmed their long-term support, both in civil and military terms, for the implementation of the objectives of the 2010 London Communiqué and the Kabul Process and its related National Priority Programs, based on the prioritized requirements of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.
Consequently, consistent with the Transition and Kabul processes, which complement one another towards sustainable stabilization and development of Afghanistan, the international community agreed to:
- Provide support for the training and equipping of Afghan national security forces, as well as financing and developing their capabilities beyond 2014. International security assistance for Afghanistan will be defined with a clear, funded plan at the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago on May 20-21, 2012;
- Phase out all Provincial Reconstruction Teams, as well as dissolving any structures that duplicate the functions and authority of the Afghan government at the national and sub-national levels;
- Accelerate provision of on-budget assistance and off-budget alignment of aid with Afghanistan’s National Priority Programs, as recommended by and agreed to in the Kabul Communiqué. In July, Japan will host a ministerial conference in Tokyo to address Afghanistan’s strategy for sustainable development, including aid effectiveness and regional economic cooperation;
- Endorse Afghanistan’s vision for building strong, sustainable bilateral and multilateral relationships with its near and extended neighbors. It was agreed that such relationships should end external interference, reinforce the principles of good neighborly relations, non-interference and sovereignty, and further Afghanistan’s economic into the region.
Moreover, the consensus that emerged in the Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan last November is noteworthy. The 13 “Heart of Asia” countries, including Afghanistan’s immediate and extended neighbors, reaffirmed the commitments enshrined in the 2002 Kabul Declaration of Good Neighborly Relations, under which Afghanistan’s six neighbors agreed to non-interference in the Afghan affairs. The “Heart of Asia” states agreed that the implementation of the Kabul Declaration requires:
- Resolutely combating and eliminating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and violent extremism, and preventing safe havens for terrorist and terrorism in the region;
- Dismantling terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens, disrupting all financial and tactical support for terrorism;
- Acknowledging that terrorism poses a threat to international peace and security, as well as a common challenge to our societies, to the region, and that it can only be addressed through the concerted efforts of all countries.
In addition, the “Heart of Asia” countries agreed with and declared their support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, complying with the conditions set forth by the Afghan government and people, in accordance with the Afghan constitution and their obligations under international law. And for the long-term institutionalization of peace and governance in Afghanistan, they extended their full support for transition to the Afghan responsibility under the holistic, “whole of government” approach of the “Kabul Process.”
In effect, they identified and committed to utilization of the “Kabul Process” as a coordination mechanism through which to implement their commitments. They also identified a number of regional mechanisms, through which to work on and address issues of common concern and interest to the region, particularly combating terrorism and drugs, as well as promoting economic and cultural cooperation. Those regional mechanisms, most of which remain under-utilized due to a lack of political will, include the Organization for Islamic Countries, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan, the Economic Cooperation Organization, and others.
Despite the pledges of support at the two conferences, however, Afghans remain concerned about ensuring that the key objectives of these and other international conferences on Afghanistan, which preceded them since 2001, are actually implemented. Indeed, the last thing Afghanistan needs is more talk without effective action by all stakeholders. This has already sent the wrong message to transnational terrorists, extremists, and drug-traffickers, as well as their supporters in the region and beyond that the international community is unable or unwilling to deliver on the promise of institutionalized peace in Afghanistan.
In effect, most terrorists may conclude that they cannot be defeated by the collective power of more than 50 allied and non-allied nations in Afghanistan. Among other key concerns, this will question NATO’s post-Cold War raison d’être, indeed, if it falters to build sustainable peace in Afghanistan, as one of its key post-Cold War missions. So, the consensus often reached at regional and international conferences on Afghanistan, like Bonn and Istanbul, will make an impact only when and if the participating nations are actually willing to act upon it. If not, their declared pledges and commitments may remain empty words on the paper, and this only further deepens Afghans’ disillusionment with the promise of institutionalized peace, pluralism, and prosperity.
As in case of Iraq, some commentators and diplomats refer to the “knowns” and “unknowns” of the future of Afghanistan. Unlike Iraq, however, Afghanistan’s nation-partners have learned over the past three decades what can and should happen in order to succeed in the country. Strategic opportunities for institutionalized success in Afghanistan must be exploited. That begins with investing in the future of Afghanistan’s young, resilient, and enterprising population, who have placed their faith in the promise of democracy against terrorism and extremism.
The signing on May 1, 2012 of the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States is a strategic step in the right direction, and has already renewed much hope and optimism among the Afghan people for a secure future in a stable region. The Agreement spells out America’s specific security and development assistance to Afghanistan, while designating the country a “Major Non-NATO Ally.” And to ensure effectiveness in its contributions to Afghanistan, the US has committed to channeling at least 50% of its assistance through Afghan government budgetary mechanisms. At the same time, the US has committed to progressively aligning its development aid behind the Afghan National Priority Programs, with the goal of achieving 80% of alignment by the end of 2012.
The long-awaited steps taken under the Afghanistan-US Strategic Agreement meet the expectations of the Afghan people towards of a future of peace and prosperity in a stable region free from terrorist and extremist threats. This much needed US-Afghan strategic partnership strongly reinforces the consensus that emerged in Bonn and Istanbul on the way forward in Afghanistan. Hence, all state participants in the two conferences must follow suit, and actually deliver on the commitments and pledges they collectively made to stabilize Afghanistan now and secure its future, through concrete partnerships of friendship with the Afghan people. This will ensure that no country in the region or beyond would, like they once did in the 1990s, suffer from the spillover effects of a stateless Afghanistan, in an increasingly geopolitically important region of the world. Indeed, the cost of neglecting Afghanistan or supporting any zero-sum designs to destabilize it is far greater than the cost of sincerely staying the course to help stabilize and rebuild the country.