Istanbul conference ends with a whimper

Published: November 3, 2011

Leaders pose for a group photo during the Istanbul Conference at the Ciragan Palace. PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL / ISLAMABAD: 

Notwithstanding political rhetoric and promises of cooperation, a much-publicised conference, which was aimed at mapping out Afghanistan’s future after the departure of western forces, failed to achieve a major breakthrough on Wednesday.

The daylong conference in the Turkish city of Istanbul brought together representatives from some two dozen countries as well as international organisations such as Nato, the EU and the United Nations.

Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours voiced their reservations over US plans to establish permanent military bases in the country and a “new regional mechanism” for the Afghan endgame.

Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran joined hands to oppose the US plans to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, a Pakistani diplomat, who attended the conference, told The Express Tribune by phone from Istanbul.

The diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries sought clarity from the US over its proposed plans.

Officially, Washington denies that it’s seeking permanent bases for its troops in the country where it has been fighting a deadly Taliban insurgency for a decade now.

The Istanbul conference was the first of two key meetings aimed at facilitating a smooth transition in Afghanistan. However, analysts say the success of the second conference scheduled to be convened in the German city of Bonn on December 5 hinges on the outcome of the Istanbul conference.

Pakistan had pinned little hope on the Istanbul meeting because of divergences in the approaches of key players over certain strategic issues.

“We maintained a low profile at the conference. We were there as a listener,” the Pakistani diplomat said. He said that Pakistan, along with Russia, China and Iran, not only voiced concerns over the US plans for military bases in Afghanistan but also opposed a new regional mechanism for peace and security in the region. The strong opposition prompted the host Turkey and the United States to drop the original Istanbul draft that proposed the formation of a contact group, which comprised, besides other countries, India, which does not share a border with Afghanistan.

Instead, the participants agreed on a revised declaration, which according to analysts, consists of nothing but rhetoric.

According to the declaration, the participants signed up to a package of “confidence-building measures” for cooperation in fields including security, reconstruction and health and the fight against “terrorism” and drug trafficking.

They vowed to “respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” the declaration said. “They also discussed guarantees for non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.”

In her speech, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was quoted as telling the conference that Afghan solution and overall security of the region must be found within the existing arrangements.

She emphasised the need for strengthening the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and Shangai Cooperation Organisation to address security and economic issues of the region.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, on the other hand, made his oft-repeated call for dismantling terrorist safe havens outside the borders of Afghanistan. Though he did not name any country, the reference was obviously to Pakistan.

“Terrorist networks are by far the major threat to Afghanistan’s security,” Karzai said. “They continue to have sanctuaries outside of our border from where they conduct their merciless campaign of destruction,” he said.

“Unless regional cooperation is assured to address the core and root of this issue, peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive,” he added.

A decade on, the Taliban insurgents remain a deadly force in Afghanistan, continuing to wage attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. Washington and Kabul have complained that Islamabad is not doing enough against the Taliban and al Qaeda militants who have found refuge in Pakistani tribal areas on the Afghan border.

(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM agencies)

Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2011.

Reader Comments (11)

  • MAD
    Nov 3, 2011 - 10:09AM

    Well if it helps the only female representative in the conference was from pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Mir Agha
    Nov 3, 2011 - 10:31AM

    There will be no peace in Afghanistan as long as the Kabuli elite play games with their own country and peoples.

    Recommend

  • Nov 3, 2011 - 11:56AM

    Hamid Karzai didnt mention his own 60% plus area in Taliban control and his failure to do something about it, they are within ur borders, what are u doing about it???Recommend

  • Yuku
    Nov 3, 2011 - 12:14PM

    Afghanistan can complain about Pakistan-based terrorist safe havens only AFTER it too eliminates terrorist safe havens inside its own territory from where outfits like the TTP Fazlullah Group launch unimpeded attacks on Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • J Oberoi
    Nov 3, 2011 - 1:24PM

    Karzai will never agree to any proposal that does not make India a major player in the deal. While other nations were dishing out the verbals, India was fronting up with the money. Pakistan did other things as well which we need not go into right now.

    Recommend

  • Alsahdid
    Nov 3, 2011 - 9:18PM

    Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people only and it is entirely upto the Afgahn people to decide about their country.
    However if the Afghan people do not want to come together to take their country in their collective hands, to decide their own fate then who on earth can make them do so?
    Same goes for Pakistan and every country in the world.
    Every thing depends on the people. The moment people start organising their own collective, co-operative system that will be time for absolute and peaceful revolution.
    When people make the fatal mistake of leaving the affairs of their country into the hands of a political party or leaders etc they simply ask for trouble. The trouble people throughout the world are getting today.
    How many more years of injustices and trouble do people want to endure that the idea of self help in all matters will come to their attention and action?

    Recommend

  • Alsahdid
    Nov 3, 2011 - 9:19PM

    Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people only and it is entirely upto the Afgahn people to decide about their country.
    However if the Afghan people do not want to come together to take their country in their collective hands, to decide their own fate then who on earth can make them do so?
    Same goes for Pakistan and every country in the world.
    Every thing depends on the people. The moment people start organising their own collective, co-operative system that will be time for absolute and peaceful revolution.
    When people make the fatal mistake of leaving the affairs of their country into the hands of a political party or leaders etc they simply ask for trouble. The trouble people throughout the world are getting today.
    How many more years of injustices and trouble do people want to endure that the idea of self help in all matters will come to their attention and action? Inssaf tayray haath hay ilzaam oothahlay. Upnay pay bharosah hay to yeh daao lagah lay.

    Recommend

  • JimRich
    Nov 4, 2011 - 11:04AM

    So, the U.S. plan for the domination of Central Asia and its mineral wealth fell through.
    Also in that collapse of U.S. goals was the militarizing of Central Asia to threaten Russia and most especially China. The nations of Central Asia do not want the U.S. ruling their part of the World and they were wise enough to recognize the real goal of the Empire.

    Recommend

  • Nayla
    Nov 15, 2011 - 6:23AM

    I so completely agree with you JimRich

    Recommend

  • buttjee
    Dec 4, 2011 - 12:08PM

    If Hamid Karzai is really interested in peace and stability in Afghanistan then instead of promoting Indian interests in Afghanistan he should better go all out to improve his relations with Pakistan. Having an anti Pakistan Tajik dominated Government in Kabul with India calling shots, will never earn him any favour from Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Dec 7, 2011 - 10:47PM

    Yes it was a useless effort. And some with the Bonn Conference. Mainly because US like to hold the control.

    Recommend

More in Pakistan