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Unrealistic expectations

Publication Date : 11-07-2012


The long-awaited Tokyo Conference designed to elicit international pledges of assistance for Afghanistan during the "transition" had quite obviously been well prepared in advance.

The delegates arrived on July 7, and on July 8, the Japanese hosts proudly announced that pledges of US$16 billion were made for assistance to Afghanistan.

Theoretically, these pledges were supposed to cover the period through 2015 and therefore worked out to about $4 billion annually. The Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, the main document to emerge from the conference, said that this assistance would be provided in return for concrete Afghan actions to improve governance, institute reforms and increase tax revenues.

It lays down timelines for the achievement of these objectives. Everybody seemed pleased that yet another in the series of conferences on Afghanistan had concluded successfully with what could be assumed were realistic plans for ensuring Afghanistan’s economic and financial stability as the country transited to take full control of security and greater control of development plans.

At the Bonn Conference, the Afghans had suggested they would need $10 billion a year for the transition period. Combining the pledges for financing the Afghan National Security Forces at $4.1 billion made at Chicago with the $4 billion now pledged it would seem that the Afghan assistance is pretty close to being on target and that Afghanistan would not suffer any major dislocation when foreign troops withdrew.

As we look, however, at what the assumptions are — these were contained in an Afghan document titled Towards Self Reliance: Strategic Vision for the Transformation Decade that was presented at Tokyo — it becomes apparent that these are hopelessly unrealistic.

This document states that the financing gap in the budget was 93.5 per cent in 2011 but would be reduced to 35.7 per cent in 2015. One sees no reason to expect this miracle will be wrought. It states that roughly half the Afghan population is without jobs and then expresses the hope that the growth of infrastructure activity will provide new jobs.

It does not mention that the principal engine of the nine per cent rate of growth that Afghanistan has experienced over the last four years has been driven largely by the services sector where it would be fair to assume job creation has been owed largely if not entirely to the demand for workers to provide services for the "surge" of foreign troops.

These jobs, as interpreters, administrative assistants and general dogsbodies, will now disappear as Nato troops withdraw along with the jobs in the security firms and the transport sector as demand for these services declines precipitously.

Above all, as the World Bank report of May 2012 in a study focused on Afghanistan but drawing upon development issues in other insurgency-wracked countries points out, "International experience demonstrates that violence and especially protracted internal insurgency are extremely damaging to development, and that political stability and consolidation are key ingredients of transitions to peaceful development. This underlines the importance of reaching a peaceful solution to the Taliban insurgency".

The Tokyo Declaration reaffirms the "importance of the peace and reconciliation process" and stresses that it must be inclusive and be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned but little else.

Peace with the Taliban or reconciliation, however, was the principal item for the meeting that Secretary Clinton had with our foreign minister and in the first ministerial-level meeting of the "core group" — Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US. It would not then be wrong to suggest that if there was seriousness and sincerity on the part of the participants the meeting of consequence for Afghanistan in Tokyo was not the jamboree of 70 nations assembled for the Tokyo Conference but these two meetings.

Clinton first had a one-on-one hour-long meeting with our foreign minister and emerged to tell the press that "We want to use the positive momentum generated by our recent agreement to take tangible steps on our many shared, core interests", and that the discussions had "focused on the necessity of defeating the terror networks that threaten the stability of both Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as the interests of the United States".

Later, a State Department spokesman confirmed that as always she had raised the issue of action against the Haqqani network asking that Pakistan do more and that the Pakistani minister had said that they would.

Earlier, while addressing a press conference in Kabul after announcing the major non-Nato ally status for Afghanistan, Clinton had recalled "the recent call from Pakistan’s parliament that Pakistani territory shall not be used for any kind of attacks on other countries. And all foreign fighters, if found, shall be expelled from Pakistani soil".

Her next sentence was "So we want to deepen our security cooperation with Pakistan", making clear what her expectations were. If this was not enough she spoke next of reconciliation on which she saw positive signs and connected it to the forthcoming meeting of the core group in Tokyo.

At the core meeting Pakistan became party to the joint statement which said: "Foreign Minister Rassoul welcomed Pakistan’s and the United States' support for Afghan peace efforts, noting especially former prime minister Gilani's February 2012 statement expressing Pakistan's support for Afghan reconciliation and calling on the Afghan Taliban and related groups to participate in an intra-Afghan process for reconciliation and peace.

"To build further momentum, we reaffirmed the importance of pursuing multiple channels and contacts with the armed opposition. Pakistan and Afghanistan committed to take full advantage of upcoming bilateral exchanges, including Pakistani Prime Minister Ashraf's forthcoming visit to Kabul and High Peace Council Chairman Rabbani’s planned visit to Islamabad.

These visits should determine and implement additional concrete steps to advance Afghan reconciliation.”

My purpose in using such extensive quotes is to suggest that it appears that Pakistan has at the least committed itself to persuading the "armed opposition" to participate in the reconciliation as part of "doing more". But perhaps this is an overly optimistic reading of what went on. After all, Secretary Clinton in describing her meeting with Minister Khar had also said that "I have no reason to believe that it will not continue to raise hard questions for us both". This suggests that there has not been a complete meeting of minds.

Press reports suggest that both our chairman joint chiefs of staff and the director general of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence are to visit the US shortly. Perhaps we will know more once they have concluded their discussions. Perhaps their talks in the US will take account of the fact that, on the one hand, Afghanistan is now a major non-Nato ally of the United States with all that implies and, on the other, that the brave words at the Tokyo Conference notwithstanding Afghanistan is bound to have an economic downturn after the Nato withdrawal and absent reconciliation this will mean serious problems for us.

The writer is a former foreign secretary


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