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The Killid Group
Karzai’s London Lobbying
Monday, 08 February 2010 12:37
Karzai’s London Lobbying
By Hashim Qiam
The focus of last week's London International Conference on Afghanistan was security. President Hamid Karzai seeks to reinforce his political role by leading the peace process, while the international community wants to quit a war that it knows will not be resolved with more shooting. It is yet to be seen if this confluence of objectives can be met.
President Karzai's speech at the conference played well with the international representatives in attendance. "During the next 2-3 years, we intend to focus on gradually assuming the responsibility of security in greater parts of our country," he said. "We will spare no effort and sacrifice to lead security of our country within the next five years." This might be too long for President Barak Obama and his promise of starting a significant military withdrawal by 2011.
The western allies, led by Britain and Japan at the conference, voiced support for Karzai's plan by providing a fund to help lure Taliban fighters away from the insurgency with the promise of jobs and protection against retaliation.
Approximately $140 million was pledged to that end.
The President announced that he is fully prepared to hold a loya jirga with Taliban leaders as well as tribal elders from around the country.
These initial steps sound auspicious but how many more will it take before we have secured a peace here?
This was the eighth international conference on Afghanistan. At each of these, donor countries dug deep for aid and the Karzai government vowed to use the money to turn around Afghanistan's economic and governmental structure.
This conference was no different in this regard, with the exception that President Karzai pressed the international community to cede more responsibility for transformative change onto Afghan security forces and the network of ministries through which his administration governs.
He also showed optimism, saying that he feels that Afghanistan is moving toward peace and stability, but that peace very much depends on the confidence level of the Afghans who will be implementing the programs that the international community is paying for.
"[We must] find a way forward toward an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned initiative that ensures peace and stability in Afghanistan and its surroundings," said Karzai in London.
But in his remarks, he emphasized the importance of reaching out to insurgent and Taliban groups. Saying, "We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers. To do this, we will establish a National Council for Peace, Reconciliation, and Reintegration, followed by a Grand Peace Jerga."
He requested that King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia help facilitate the initial stages of these talks, while urging the global community to come up with yet more money for a financial aid package that would pay for them.
President Karzai also welcomed the UN Security Council's decision to cross a number of top Taliban figures from an international blacklist, stressing that such a move will make it easier to bargain with these insurgents.
While the details of such talks are still murky, it is clear that President Karzai would like to include a number of Afghan provincial governors, ministry heads, and his cabinet members. He also wants to reinforce the network of tribal elders and leaders. These men have long been a part of Afghanistan's local governance, but after being targeted for death by the Soviets their power was further diminished by the rise of the Taliban, who's leaders were drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of Afghanistan's religious community.
President Karzai also said that he hopes to reinforce democratic institutions in Afghanistan while also paying attention to the country's cultural heritage and traditions. "Strengthening our tradition of Jerga will promote healthy communities," he said. "Engaging our elders and Ulema in decision-making at all societal levels can lead to speedy and less costly resolution of disputes. Empowerment of local councils makes our development projects more demand-oriented and cost effective," he said.
While the Taliban's top leadership has yet to put forward a plan for reconciliation, they have made the first of a few preconditions for such talks clear: A total withdrawal of all international military forces from Afghanistan.
Given the current state of the war here, and the Kabul government's weakened position after a messy presidential election, it is hard to believe that this demand will be met.
A few of their other demands may be somewhat easier to meet.
The leadership of Taliban groups would like all U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan--including the massive prison at Bagram Air Base--to be shuttered and all Taliban detainees released.
Karzai suggested creating a commission to review all detentions in Afghanistan.
National sovereignty also requires demonstrating commitment and adherence to justice.
The prospect of talks with insurgents has been met warily by some key players.
The Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan cautiously welcomed this plan, saying that the principles of justice and human rights must be adhered to, whatever the outcome of negotiations.
President Karzai assured this group, and others, that the rights of Afghans, especially women, would be observed.
Security was another main topic of discussion at the London conference, with Karzai saying that the safety of all Afghans will be a priority going forward. Karzai welcomed the increase in U.S. troop presence here, a buildup that has already begun in the south's Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
But this will likely be the last buildup of foreign forces here, as both Karzai and the international community are intent on shifting the burden for Afghan safety to Afghan security forces in the near term.
"Civilian casualties must be stopped," says political analyst Noorullah Koohestani. "And autonomy must be given to the Afghan army."
Similarly, in London, President Karzai stressed the need of ensuring "the monopoly of the Afghan state over the use of force; this cannot be achieved unless we bring the non-state security contractors under control and in line with the laws of Afghanistan."
Corruption was also a major issue during the London conference.
After President Karzai's re-election in a disputed voting process, he promised to end corruption and bring more efficient governance to Afghanistan. He claims to have a five-year-plan that will reform state institutions with new efficiencies, adding that ending administrative corruption will be a major priority during his second term in office. Karzai says that he's already taken steps such as creating an anti-corruption task force and giving more autonomy and power to a government auditing unit.
But many government watchers in Afghanistan are wary of such promise.
Shah Hussein Mortazavi, editor of Hashy-e-Sob, believe that the issue of corruption is so big as to be overwhelming.
"Ending corruption is not easy," he says. "Sacking or detaining one or two corrupted officials will not do the job. Rather, fundamental, systematic reforms and change are needed. The government must take decisive measures to root out corruption."
Economist Hamidullah Formoli, says that when looking for corruption, President Karzai should start at the top and end his practice of granting pardons to political allies who may have strayed to the wrong side of corruption laws.
"There must not be immunity for such crimes," Formoli says. "Every Afghan official must be held accountable for their actions."
President Karzai seems to realize this, saying that "We are strongly pursuing and prosecuting those who break the law and we will protect those who cooperate with our investigations."
But many average Afghans doubt.
"Corruption is still everywhere" says Barrat Ali Shojaee, who sells ice cream in Kabul. "It has reached the highest level of society and government. Without money, you can barely get a signature for a permit so that you can do your job."
The plight of impoverished Afghans was also a major point of concern and conversation for London conference attendees. Through eight international conferences, tens-of-billions of dollars have been pledged and delivered to alleviate poverty here, but few poor Afghans have seen there lot in life improve.
"When the Bonn conference [of 2001] was held," says Esmatullah Mohaseli, of the Kharwan Research Center, "the global community pledged much economic support for development…Afghans were expecting President Karzai to remove poverty through these aid dollars."
At this conference, as at all the others, President Karzai pledged to do just that. This time, he emphasized that the improvements would come through his National Development Strategy, and urged donors to focus their aid packages and five year plans more narro wly on education, healthcare, irrigation and dam systems to improve agriculture and generate electricity.
President Karzai pointed out that 80 percent of international aid bypasses the Afghan government.
The high operating costs of these organizations--which include both security expenditures, large salaries for Afghanistan-based personnel and fat profit margins--overshadow what they spend on actual development.
Karzai stressed that there must be push for greater efficiency in both these organizations and the overall distribution of aid to support the Afghan government. He and his top cabinet officials say that the best solution is to give the money directly to Afghan ministries, who know exactly where the money should go and how best to spend it.
Aziz Shams, spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, says that at least 50 percent of international aid should be spent through the ministries, whereas now, only 20 percent of these monies are spent this way.
But some Afghans suspect that if so much money is placed directly in the hands of government officials, much of those funds will find their way into those official's pockets.
Abdul Karim Rezaee, a law student in Kabul, fears that too much money will end up being spent on the "private lives" of officials and not get to those Afghans who need it most.
It would be impossible to hold a talk about Afghanistan and finding a path to peace here, without addressing the concern of regional partners and antagonists.
Regional cooperation is crucial to ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Hassan Azizi, political analyst and writer, says that bringing peace to Afghanistan is dependent on neighbors who are willing to help, without feeling threatened by Afghan stability.
"There must be regional cooperation for peace," Azizi says. "Our neighbors must realize that a stable Afghanistan won't damage them."
But according to Dr. Shah Jahan Jafari of the Ministry of Education, the regional partnership puzzle is a bit of a catch-22.
He says that in order for the rest of the region to cooperate in Afghan stability, Afghanistan must be more stable. But in order for Afghanistan to be more stable, other nations in the region must cooperate in her security. In addition, these nations undoubtedly want to secure a peace, but are also looking out for their best interests, desiring a Kabul government that is secure, but also sympathetic to these nations' desires.
"The Afghan government must not allow neighboring countries to misuse our situation," says Jafari. "The Afghan government must prevent these countries form having undue influence over our internal affairs and political groups. If there is national solidarity in Afghanistan, this can be achieved."