International Task Force on Afghanistan Calls for Opening Talks on a Regional Peace Settlement

The Century Foundation’s International Task Force on Afghanistan in Its Regional and Multilateral Dimensions released on Wednesday a report, Afghanistan: Negotiating Peace, calling for immediate talks to explore the feasibility of negotiating an end to the conflict in Afghanistan. 

The co-chairs of the International Task Force, Lakhdar Brahimi and Thomas Pickering, emphasized the need for a diplomatic surge to complement the military and economic surges. Pickering, a former U.S. Undersecretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, India, and Russia, said, “The growing recognition of stalemate sets the stage for a political phase to negotiate a settlement that concludes the conflict – and the time to start that political process is now.”

Co-chair Brahimi, who served as U.N. Secretary General's Special Envoy for Afghanistan from 1997-99 and 2001-04 and was the chief architect of the 2001 Bonn agreement on a post-Taliban Afghan conference, said, “there is no victory to be had – for any side – in Afghanistan’s 32-year-long war. Every ‘victor’ in this long war has found its victory to be ephemeral – simply a pause before another renewal of war.”

The task force reached several conclusions:

·   An international facilitator is needed to engage potential parties to a negotiation in exploration talks over whether they are prepared to make the compromises needed to achieve settlement;
·   While the U.S. will be central to a negotiation, it cannot mediate a conflict in which it is a principal combatant;
·   The exploration would evolve into a process leading to agreement among the parties on the future of governance in Afghanistan and their roles and participation in it;
·   Afghans – not foreigners – must decide how to structure their internal governance. The stake of the international community is in suppressing terrorist networks and drug trafficking, and in supporting peace through aid for development and human rights;
·   A negotiation process will be complex, involving many parties in Afghanistan and the region, including: Central Asian states, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Russia, as well as ISAF member countries.

The task force emphasized that its conclusions reflected a broad consensus among the parties it consulted. “Everybody – Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, etc. – agrees there’s no military solution to the war,” noted Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. There is also “overwhelming support” for negotiations in Afghan society itself, relayed James Dobbins, Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND. “Polling shows strong majorities in favor of a peace settlement and making certain sacrifices for it.”

The process recommended by the task force would begin with exploratory talks led by a facilitator from “an international organization, a neutral state, or a group of states,” Brahimi stated. “The Afghan government has already indicated clearly its desire for a negotiated peace. It is important now to initiate a process to determine whether all parties see a realistic hope of achieving their most important goals through a negotiated settlement.”

The task force on Afghanistan was assembled and supported by The Century Foundation, a non-profit public policy research institution with offices in New York City and Washington, DC. 

“The road to stability and peace in Afghanistan is steep and difficult,” acknowledged Richard Leone, the president of the foundation. “We are fortunate to have these two outstanding individuals lead a comprehensive and important international inquiry into how best to move forward. They know how the U.S. government works, how the United Nations works, and most importantly, how Afghanistan works. There are not many people who have talked to all sides in this conflict over all these years.”

The report, which was unveiled at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, may be downloaded at www.tcf.org.

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