Foreign Policy Blogs

Afghanistan International Conference: Happenings at the Hague

With a ‘hello‘ between US Envoy Richard Holbrooke and an Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister garnering the most media attention, the International Conference on Afghanistan was underway at The Hague in Netherlands.  This major conference features a geopolitical who’s who of actors influenced by the conflict, including representatives from Pakistan, Iran (wow, I didn’t know they were there!), Russia, Japan, NATO, and the UN.  Here are Sec of State Hillary Clinton’s Opening Remarks, Clinton at a press conference, and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher’s Q & A on Afghanistan and Pakistan matters.

Two interesting bits from Clinton’s opening:

The range of countries and institutions represented here is a universal recognition that what happens in Afghanistan matters to us all. Our failure to bring peace and progress would be a setback not only to the people of Afghanistan, but to the entire enterprise of collective action in the interest of collective security. Our success, on the other hand, will not only benefit Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region, but also the blueprint for a new diplomacy powered by partnership and premised on shared interests…..

The challenge we face is difficult, but the opportunity is clear if we move away from the past. All too often in the past seven years, our efforts have been undermanned, under-resourced and underfunded. This goal is achievable. We know we have made progress where we have made adequate investment and worked together.

The first paragraph is a fine overview of the importance of Afghanistan to worldwide security and call for all to pitch in for what is ‘shared interests’.  The second paragraph, besides a critical shot against the Bush administration, will hopefully speak louder to the audience.  To all of the NATO members in the audience, who no doubt were thinking about the Bush administration during this line, hopefully also recognized that they are involved in the ‘undermanned, under-resourced and underfunded’ aspect of the conflict.  It would be best for Clinton to focus on that aspect rather than former mistakes, and I give her the benefit of the doubt.

Here was the most interesting question and answer exchange at Clinton’s otherwise mundane, Iran dominated news conference:

QUESTION: Mrs. State Secretary, this morning you said that we should reach out to the moderates in the Taliban. But isn’t that the same as negotiating with terrorists, which clearly has not been a U.S. policy so far? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it isn’t. I mean, what I said is the policy of the Government of Afghanistan and a recognition by a number of nations that the Taliban consists of a hard-core of committed extremists with whom there is not likely to be any chance of any kind of reconciliation or reintegration. But it is our best estimate that the vast majority of Taliban fighters and members are people who are not committed to a cause so much as acting out of desperation.

And therefore, an offer of not only reconciliation, but a chance for them to be reintegrated into Afghan society, to perhaps have employment, to get help with their property in terms of preparing it for agricultural production, we think that there are a number of people who are currently in the Taliban who would accept such an offer.

Now, it has to be proven that they are willing to walk away from the Taliban. We did see quite a bit of this in Iraq, where people who had taken up arms against the United States and against the coalition and against the elected Iraqi Government decided to walk away from their involvement in return for the position in society and a job that was offered to them. And I think that this is very likely the course that we can take with respect to members of the Taliban, too. 

Clinton of course is alluding to the successful counterinsurgency strategy utilized with Iraq’s Sunni Awakening members and believes the same can be down with elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.  I’m afraid this will not be so easy as even the improvements in Iraq are showing strain.

Lastly, I encourage you to look at Boucher’s short Q & A, as it covers what is said to be a major aspect of Obama’s new Afghan plan, but one that has featured little details; the civilian surge. Here’s a sample:

QUESTION: A lot of attention being paid to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Can you tell us a little bit more about the details of the plans being made in this building in terms of the numbers of people and the kind of projects you’re going to undertake in Afghanistan? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We don’t have quite final numbers yet, because we’re finishing the actual budgets to do this. But the idea is that we need to put in place a significantly increased number of civilians and that they will go out to help with governance, to help with agriculture, to administer aid projects on the ground where they make a difference both in Kabul, but also out in the provinces and even down to the district level, so a very significant increase is anticipated. We’ve put a couple dozen more people out in the last few months. We continue to do that. But once we get the budgets, we’ll make a big increase. 

Still not much detail, but it appears things are at least in motion.  Ah, budget season.