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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sustaining Afghan aid vital: ex-U.N. officials

Inclusive dialogue considered key to peace process


Staff writer

The international community needs to remain committed and provide the necessary support to Afghanistan after security issues become Kabul's responsibility in 2014, according to two former high-ranking U.N. diplomats.

Lakhdar Brahimi, a former special representative of the U.N. secretary general and a special envoy to Iraq and Afghanistan, said much has been achieved in the 10 years since a 2002 international conference in Tokyo on Afghanistan's reconstruction, but if security is allowed to disintegrate these positive changes could be lost.

"The chance for so-called transition success would be hugely enhanced if peace should be achieved before 2014," Brahimi said during a discussion with Sadako Ogata, former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, during a forum Thursday on the Afghan peace process. The forum was held three days before a Tokyo conference on aid for Afghanistan, which will draw representatives from more than 70 countries.

The conference will discuss how the international community can help Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the transfer of security operations from NATO-led forces to the Afghan government will be completed.

The biggest challenge is the long-stalled peace negotiations with the Taliban, which was ousted by the U.S.-led invasion after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The peace process suffered a severe blow when former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the top negotiator with the Taliban, was killed by a suicide bomber last September. The Taliban, who set up a communications channel in Qatar, suspended preliminary peace talks with the U.S. in March.

Both Ogata and Brahimi said Afghanistan needs to establish a political process that includes everybody from women and minority groups to the Taliban, so that each comes away with something.

"This kind of sharing will bring something that builds trust in the political process," said Ogata.

She argued Japan can facilitate this process by offering demilitarization programs, such as job training and work opportunities, to the Taliban so the insurgents can be reincorporated into civil society.

There are doubts whether the Afghan government can provide adequate security once NATO forces withdraw in 2014 and over how it is going to pay for the more than $4 billion necessary to fund the security forces. After months of negotiations, the U.S. and Afghanistan in April finalized a strategic partnership agreement that includes 10 years of American support after the withdrawal of combat troops.

"If the U.S. wants to leave behind a stable country, they have to establish the stability (beforehand). But there are 1½ years to do that. The earlier talks start with the Taliban the better," said Brahimi.

Both he and Ogata called on the U.N. to take a more direct role in brokering negotiations among the key players. Currently, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is focusesing mainly on humanitarian relief, reconstruction and development activities.

The U.N.'s role should be "to give access to all sides and really become an honest political conciliator for political negotiations among the various (parties)," Ogata said.

Brahimi said Japan's assistance can extend beyond development and into the political process. The Tokyo conference also can help ensure Afghanistan's plight remains a priority for the international community and prevent it from slipping off the radar, as was the case when Soviet forces departed the country in 1989.

"The question is if the international community is going to be patient and have the political will to stay with Afghanistan and help them stand on their feet," said Brahimi. "They are standing on their own with difficulty and could easily fall down."



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