Pakistan, Taliban Make Presence Felt In Bonn By Their Absence
December 05, 2011
by Charles Recknagel
BONN, Germany -- The message coming from Bonn was clear: the international community intends to support Afghanistan after foreign combat troops leave the country, and that means new training for Afghanistan's security forces and further development aid for its economy.
At least that's the message conveyed by the bevy of high-powered representatives of 85 countries and 16 international organizations gathered at the so-called Bonn II conference.
But if participants' focus was on committing to Afghanistan after foreign troops leave by the end of 2014, two key players made their presence felt by their absence: Pakistan and the Taliban.
"We would, of course, have benefited from Pakistan's contribution to this conference," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted. "And to that end, nobody in this hall is more concerned than the United States is about getting an accurate picture of what occurred in the recent border incident."
Pakistan said it would not come after NATO accidentally attacked two of its border posts late last month, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistan is a key player in the Afghan crisis because it is on Pakistani soil that Afghan insurgents have their safe havens. Islamabad also is widely believed to wield such influence with some Taliban groups -- particularly the Haqqani faction -- that Islamabad's cooperation is needed to bring them into any Afghan peace process.
Islamabad's boycott left Kabul, which has difficult relations with its neighbor, in the awkward position of trying to do damage control.
Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin told RFE/RL that Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to talk bilaterally about security matters no matter what happened on the larger world stage.
"Well, Pakistan's support is absolutely crucial, but we are working with them on that on a bilateral basis," Ludin said. "That is a process that is ongoing, as I said. But their absence from this conference is not going to affect our bilateral relationship."
For it's part, the Taliban's absence only further underlined the challenges to peace in Pakistan. Afghan officials confirmed to RFE/RL that no active members of the Taliban, nor any prominent former members of the organization, were present in Bonn.
No Ignoring The Neighbors
Yet Pakistan's and the Taliban's absence was important for other reasons as well. One is the much-voiced hope in Bonn that peace in Afghanistan could help the entire region become more peaceful and prosperous.
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the conference: "A stable, secure, and developed Afghanistan is not just the noble desire of the Afghan people and our international friends. It is a necessity if the region is to achieve security and meaningful economic integration."
Kabul and the international community know that one day Afghanistan will have to stand on its own economic base, and that base can only come through trade with its immediate and extended neighbors.
Other Kabul officials brought this same message with them as they attended the conference.
Afghan Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal told RFE/RL that Kabul wanted good economic relations with all of its neighbors, even those like Iran that today give its Western backers cause for alarm.
"We don't get involved in the politics of the U.S. and others. We have kept the best of relationships with Pakistan. We have kept the best of relations with Iran. We want to keep the best of relations and the U.S. is supportive of this," Zakhilwal said.
"Again, they are keeping their bilateral politics with Iran and everybody else to themselves and do not make it part of their policy in Afghanistan," he noted. "And Afghans genuinely want their country to move toward stability and to become a genuine, active part of the region which includes Iran, which includes Pakistan, and which includes the north, China, and everyone else."
Because of its location, Afghanistan is a land bridge for transit, transportation, and connectivity within the region. Routes through Afghanistan could provide Central Asia with direct access to the booming markets of India, a prospect that interests gas-exporting Turkmenistan, to mention just one state.
This conference took place 10 years after the first Bonn conference sought to set out the foundations of a new Afghanistan following the toppling of the Taliban in 2001.
The conference did not focus on pledges of new dollar amounts for Afghanistan but on showing that the world's willingness to help the strife-torn country remains undiminished.
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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