Bonn Conference: A Security–Political Approach

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Former Iranian Ambassador to Armenia & Expert on Strategic Issues

Absence of Pakistan

About ten years after the first Bonn conference which led to the establishment of an interim government in Afghanistan, the government of Germany made serious efforts to organize the second such conference at a high level. The second Bonn conference was held under conditions which led to various questions about timing of the conference, especially in view of the existing circumstances in the region. A serious situation pertained to recent downgrade in Pakistan’s relations with the United States and Islamabad’s positions about new way of interaction with Washington. Such questions seemed serious enough and nobody knew how and with what goal Pakistan will enter into the Bonn conference. Finally, the conference was held in the absence of Pakistan and this issue will show its consequences in the near future. One of those consequences, perhaps, is taking more aggressive positions by political currents which are inclined toward Islamabad. Therefore, the question raised here is “Will the Bonn conference mark a new turning point with regard to interaction of influential forces in Afghanistan?” It is apparently too early to give a decisive answer to this question yet.

On the other hand, there are still more basic, though unanswered, questions about the mechanism through which stability and security is to be established in Afghanistan. Since none of these questions have been answered in a definitive way, nobody can claim to have a final answer to them. Given the above facts, a new question is “Whether the second Bonn conference actually had the same capacities as its predecessor?” It seems that more diplomatic effort is needed before the conference can give birth to new political processes with regard to Afghanistan.

Iran's Position

The Islamic Republic of Iran announced its position more clearly during the second Bonn conference. Iran tried to explain its views on certain important issues such as the impact of the West’s, especially the US long-term presence on Afghanistan and the whole region. Tehran also attempted to remind participants of some facts in view of the importance of stability and a positive future outlook in Afghanistan. Traditionally, West Asia has been considered part of the Iranian plateau and there is historical evidence to prove that there are profound links between Iran and West Asia. Therefore, Iran cannot be a passive spectator with regard to the activities of the Western bases in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Afghanistan has been always considered a neutral country in regional developments. The West, however, seems to be poised to take new advantage of geopolitical situation of Afghanistan.

Western Views

The salient feature of the second Bonn conference was the “invisible differences” among viewpoints of the European countries regarding future outlooks of Afghanistan. The cold welcome accorded to the conference by the British government was somehow different from the enthusiasm shown by France and Germany. On the other hand, Paris and Berlin were more than eager to reach a conclusion through the conference, which was not the case about London. The US approach to the conference, however, was apparently part of a general trend. This means that Washington saw the conference as only a small part of its desired solution for Afghanistan. As a result, it did not enjoy the same degree of prominence as the first Bonn conference in the eyes of the American statesmen. Since other future conferences are to be held on Afghanistan, the United States is trying to exercise a multiphasic management of the country’s situation through diplomatic channels. Of course, this is not incompatible with the US strategic goals as per its recent military deal with Afghanistan to establish military bases in that country. It is still clear that Washington considers itself to be at the helm in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and claims a leadership role compared to its European partners.

Eastern Countries’ Positions

The questions which had been raised by Russia before the conference and positions taken by the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, during the conference were among noticeable points. Moscow still believes that the West’s behavior in Afghanistan is far from transparent which prevents Russia form having a good grasp of the West’s plans in that country. This approach marked a new phase in Russia’s positions on the situation in Afghanistan. Russia initially worked with NATO by providing the military alliance with a transportation corridor in order to play its strategic role with regard to Afghanistan. Today, however, Russia has changed from a simple sidekick to the West in Afghanistan to a player with serious questions. Therefore, another feature of the second Bonn conference was adoption of brand new positions on Afghanistan by such Eastern countries as China, Russia, and to some extent, India. India’s approach to Afghanistan has always been regulated with regard to Pakistan. Recent conclusion of a strategic pact between India and Afghanistan invoked reactions in Islamabad. Pakistan cannot accept that India is now present in the strategic depth that it had already defined for itself.

Overall Assessment

A comparison between the first and second Bonn conferences will show that the first conference was riveted on state building and defining new legal identity of Afghanistan following the fall of Taliban. In the second conference, however, the West sought to interact with Taliban and tried to provide room for Taliban to play its role in the new round of political developments in Afghanistan. Therefore, Taliban has found itself in a totally new and sensitive situation. In addition, roles played by influential forces in Afghanistan are now very different from what they were in the past. This has been manifested in new challenges and barriers facing the country, as well as Washington’s reduced military power in Afghanistan. Therefore, the second Bonn conference can be a prelude to a new security-oriented and somehow nonmilitary trend in Afghanistan. In other words, new approaches taken by various countries are more focused on security and political issues, which stands in stark contrast to their past purely political approach. The Afghan President Hamid Karzai has, of course, indicated his willingness to see continued presence of the Western forces in Afghanistan. Once more, he called on the West to continue economic cooperation with and aid to Afghanistan. Perhaps, it would have been better for the Afghan president to cast a new look at the economic and financial crisis which is sweeping through the Western countries and adjust his demands accordingly. The next Afghan president should understand that the current situation in Afghanistan has not been easily earned.

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review

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