U.N. Seeks New Approach to Peace in Afghanistan
Since the collapse of the communist regime in 1992, all efforts have so far failed to achieve anything beyond short-lived cessations of hostilities.
At least one Afghan watcher in Kabul belives the root of their failure has been to address only half of the problem.
''Many of the problems here stem from the support that the factions are receiving from outside countries. Until they can be persuaded either to stop supporting the factions or to come to a consensus on the future of Afghanistan, the war will continue,'' he said.
Representatives of countries thought to be able to exert influence over the parties in Afghanistan's war were gathering in New York on Monday at the invitation of U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
According to a U.N. officer in Kabul, the aim is ''to see if the participating countries can decide among themselves on ways of harnessing their influence in support of peace.''
Participants who have been invited include the five permanent members of the security council -- the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China -- as well as Afghanistan's neighbours and others.
They included Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia, all of them accused by each other and by the factions of contributing to the conflagration at one time or another.
Representatives of the warring factions in Afghanistan have not been invited.
The Islamic fundamentalist Taleban, who captured Kabul in late September and now control almost 75 percent of the country, claim Afghanistan's seat in the U.N., currently occupied by a representative of the ousted government of Burhanuddin Rabbani.
None of the invited countries has admitted supporting any of the factions since the fall of the communist regime in 1992, and all the warring parties insist that they are not receiving outside help.
But Afghan watchers say foreign interference is rampant, and will be almost impossible to stop.
''Foreign interference is a fact of life in Afghanistan, and the U.N. will have to learn to live with it,'' said one.
The U.N. meeting signals a new approach to solving the conflict -- an attempt to persuade foreign sponsors to use their influence to promote peace rather than the military victory of their chosen party.
One of the prizes motivating the conflicting policies of surrounding nations is the vast energy and mineral resources of Central Asia.
The former soviet Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan alone is estimated to have as much oil and gas as Kuwait. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also have significant reserves.
The U.S.-based oil company Unocal Corp, in partnership with Saudi-based Delta Oil, has proposed building a $6-billion pipeline across Afghanistan from neighbouring Turkmenistan to the energy-hungry subcontinent.
None of the surrounding nations is keen to see Afghanistan, with the stranglehold it will have on the vital energy supply should the pipeline be built, fall into the hands of a faction seen to be under the control of another country with conflicting strategic objectives.
There are other concerns also. Afghanistan has a sizeable Shi'ite Moslem minority, and Iran has expressed its concern about the fate of its co-religionists under the Taleban, followers of the rival Sunni sect of the religion. Uzbekistan and Russia fear a source of militant Islam on their borders.
The new United Nations approach seems to acknowledge the intractability of the problem of negotiating peace in the country without agreement between the sponsors of the warring parties.
The first objective of the meeting in New York will be to forge a consensus among the participants on a plan that safeguards their strategic concerns.
Given the long-standing divisions between the surrounding states, the Monday's one-day meeting is unlikely to result in a concrete plan of action, but it might produce a framework for co-operation in the future.
The meeting is also a sign that the world's powers, after four years of neglect, are finally taking a serious interest in ending the carnage in Afghanistan.
Copyright 1996 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
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