From Here to London!

By: Dr. G. Rauf Roashan

Abstract:  The London Conference came and went. It gave President Karzai of Afghanistan green light to go on with some of his proposals. But there are many questions as to the practicality of those plans that still depend on regional powers, neighboring countries and the international community as well as the United States and the United Nations. Another important question is the capability of Karzai to make and lead a cabinet that would work as a team.

A century old saying in Kabul referring to disputes between two people quoting one side states:  “Feel free to approach any one of your supporters from here to London and I will never fear you or them.”

This time the government of Afghanistan used that freedom and went to London for a one day conference of its so-called supporters. As a matter of fact and unfortunately it has become almost a tradition to take Afghan inner problems outside to conferences in Bonn, Tokyo, London, Paris, Berlin and God knows how many more cities.

The question is whether world leaders really sleep “barefeet” for the suffering of the people of Afghanistan?  The answer is: Of course not.  It will be totally naïve as it has been so far to expect world powers to abandon their own national interests for the interests of a third world country and its leader and its people.

Let us look at London.  In London’s Conference on Afghanistan on January 28, 2010 some 70 countries participated. The conference listened to the presentation by a more humble Afghan leader who has fallen from favor considerably. He told the conference that he will not enumerate his government’s successes but would dwell on its problems. Perhaps those successes do not amount to much and that is why he did not dwell on them. He then copied the now famous triangle of issues that trouble deeply Afghanistan and its people: Insecurity, corruption and inefficient governance, and lack of economic development. He repeated his now classical promises that he would address all three and much more if only he was given the support he needs. Perhaps he meant renewed respect and some elbow room to run his own government and to be given money and expertise and technology and time even beyond the so-called suggested troop withdrawal commencement imaginary schedule if conditions allowed it.

It seems he was sent home with partial support in the form of lukewarm stamping of plans for what he calls reintegration process of Taleban, affirming his suggested involvement of Saudi Arabia in this process, and convening of a peace Jirga and the Loya Jirga.  The Conference heard him say for the umpteenth time that he will work on a comprehensive social and economic development plan for Afghanistan based on peoples’ priorities.

Perhaps also it is wishful thinking that all of his hopes will be realized and his deadlines met and his enemies reconciled as he has wished for. But it would be worthwhile to have a look at both sides of the coin and consider some positive and negative aspects of the so-called London Conference achievements for Karzai.  The Conference once again put its hopes in Karzai who by now has become almost an expert in trying to keep everyone happy by consenting to their demands be it a foreign interest or local power broker groups or individuals. This of course he has done with a high cost to the detriment of the Afghan people. He has once again cried out loud for the need to be given importance in the conduct of the war on terror that is fought so far on his soil with little or no coordination with his government. He has furthermore asked for a share in the decision making regarding economic assistance to his country and a say in the delivery and expenditure of aid. While all of the above are legitimate demands, it is unlikely that foreign military authorities would take him any more serious than what they say they already have. The foreign aid to his country also is unlikely to be fully and completely delivered through his government channels that have yet to prove any degree of efficiency. He has also failed to see through what was presented by him and the international community with a documented plan called the Compact.  He doesn’t even have a mechanism in the form of a planning authority to come up with a coordinated plan based on peoples’ priorities for the country as he has abolished the planning ministry years ago. And more important he does not have a full cabinet in place yet and even if and when he did, it doesn’t seem likely that he would succeed in making it a coordinated purposeful team.

But regarding one of the most important issues of the London Conference, namely supporting his efforts to negotiate with Taleban there are many troubling questions that need to be answered: Are there really moderate Taleban around? How is the money set aside for the so-called process of integration going to be spent? Would it be called officially sanctioned bribes? And what would be the role of the integrated Taleban in Afghanistan? Would they rescind their dogmatic attitude by accepting human rights norms of the 21st century? Why would they become any less Taleban than what they are now? 1/31/10