WASHINGTON: A day before an international conference on the Afghan endgame kicked off in the German city of Bonn, US President Barack Obama called up his Pakistani counterpart to offer condolences over the death of two dozen troops in Nato airstrikes that prompted Islamabad’s boycott of the crucial meeting.
A White House statement said Obama placed a call early Sunday to Asif Ali Zardari expressing his regrets over the “tragic loss” and promising a “full investigation” into the November 26 air raid on Pakistani border posts in Mohmand Agency.
Obama “made clear that this regrettable incident was not a deliberate attack on Pakistan and reiterated the United States’ strong commitment to a full investigation,” the statement said.
Islamabad has so far refused to take part in a US investigation into the November 26 air strikes on the Afghan border.
But the White House said Obama and Zardari nonetheless “reaffirmed their commitment to the US-Pakistan bilateral relationship, which is critical to the security of both nations, and they agreed to stay in close touch.”
In the wake of the strikes, Pakistan decided not to take part in the Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan that opens today (Monday), a decision which, together with the Taliban’s boycott, has cast the event’s usefulness into doubt.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who will attend the conference, expressed his disappointment that Pakistan was not attending.
The Taliban’s non-attendance risks making Bonn part of what Britain’s former ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, called the “charade” of international conferences on Afghanistan, dogged by “diplomacy for diplomacy’s sake”.
Their participation seemed a possibility earlier in the year but all hopes were dashed after the assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was blamed on the Taliban.
“I’m not expecting a huge amount on reconciliation,” Britain’s Ambassador in Kabul William Patey said.
“I’m not expecting much other than an affirmation that the Afghan government, supported by the international community, stands ready to talk peace and reconciliation with the Taliban when and if they’re ready.”
The ‘original sin’
Some argue that decisions taken at the 2001 Bonn conference caused some of the problems facing the country today.
Britain’s former ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles wrote this year in his memoirs that the conference had been “a victor’s peace from which the vanquished had been excluded.”
The ‘original sin’ was not to have the Taliban at Bonn, Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid quotes the former UN special representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, as saying, in the book “Descent Into Chaos”.
“The tough work on resolving conflicts like these necessarily take place behind the scenes,” Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress think-tank, wrote last month.
Open meetings “are the least likely arenas to address some of the thorniest issues at the core of the conflict, including the role played by neighbours such as Pakistan and Iran and the diplomatic strategy for dealing with (the Taliban).”
(Read: An angry goodbye to Bonn)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2011.