Afghanistan

Washington and Kabul: time to partner for peace

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by David Cortright

02 April 2013

Notre Dame, Indiana – At a press conference in Kabul on 11 March 2013, Afghan President Hamid Karzai charged that the United States was working with the Taliban to undermine his government and keep Afghanistan unstable in order to justify maintaining troops in the country. The accusation angered Washington and was promptly dismissed. Yet Afghan officials and civil society leaders are increasingly frustrated by US actions that harm civilians and undermine Afghan sovereignty.

Despite the difficulties, Washington and Kabul could rebuild their frayed relationship by shifting from the strategy of war to the pursuit of peace and lasting stability in Afghanistan.

It is important to remember that the two governments share many common interests that define their partnership. In a joint statement released on 11 January 2013, US President Barack Obama and President Karzai re-affirmed their shared commitments to advancing peace, strengthening Afghanistan’s democratic institutions and creating a secure, stable country able to develop economically and socially.

Achieving these shared interests is possible but will require different thinking around – and less resistance to – a peace settlement.

Presidents Obama and Karzai have already called for a political solution to the war. Both leaders endorsed the goal of negotiated peace settlement, but neither displayed much enthusiasm or sense of strategic direction reaching out to insurgents. The Taliban and other insurgent groups also favoured peace talks initially, but then walked away from the process demanding that the United States fulfil earlier promises to release Taliban detainees from Guantanamo.

A possible model for a peace settlement comes at the recommendation of International Crisis Group and the RAND Corporation. In reports published by these organisations in 2011 and 2012, both recommended the creation of a high-level UN-led mediation team that is acceptable to all parties to facilitate a comprehensive peace process between them. The UN is perhaps the only organisation able to garner the political clout needed to successfully achieve a peace settlement. While those reports initially gave an early 2013 deadline for implementing these efforts, it’s not too late.

A comprehensive peace process could start with confidence-building measures geared at different groups and culminate in a negotiated political settlement that includes all relevant stakeholders in the country, including ethnic minorities and civil society in Afghanistan.

These latter groups would need to be present from the start to create broader buy-in for a settlement, raising prospects for its success. Washington and Kabul might begin working with the UN to identify a mediation team that is mutually acceptable to both and also able to engage all major stakeholders.

If a peace agreement is reached, it would likely need the support of third party peacekeeping forces. Peacekeeping is different from peacebuilding in that a neutral third party – usually authorised by the UN – goes into the country to create conditions for peace, including monitoring the withdrawal of combatants from conflict zones, monitoring elections and delivering reconstruction aid. Evidence from other peace settlements, such as Cambodia and Liberia, indicates that the presence of third party peacekeepers greatly increases the prospects for sustainable peace.

A peacekeeping force might be led by Muslim-led troops as suggested by Taliban leaders. A Muslim-led peacekeeping force is likely to have more success given hostility toward Western powers resulting from Afghanistan’s recent history. Indonesian officials I have interviewed about this idea said that Jakarta might be willing to play a role, but only if the force was under UN authority and had the consent of all Afghan parties.

By supporting UN-led negotiations for a comprehensive settlement and working with Indonesia and other Muslim-majority nations to create an interim peacekeeping force, Washington and Kabul could build a more stable, lasting partnership. Both countries would benefit. The United States could withdraw its troops without jeopardising security in the region, and Afghanistan would gain greater sovereignty and hope for a more peaceful future.

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  • David Cortright is the Director of Policy Studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 April 2013, www.commongroundnews.org Copyright permission is granted for publication.