A preparatory meeting for the Bonn Conference 2 was held in Kabul on June 27, 2011. Representa tives and organizations from more than 50 countries were present in the event dubbed under the auspices of the International Contact Group (ICG). German Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Michael Steiner was chairing the meeting. He said the international community will not let Afghanistan down, and will remain committed after the transition and withdrawal of foreign troops. He added that the international community will not let the country go back to a similar situation like the civil war of post-Soviet withdrawal.
However, this meeting didn't discuss whether the Bonn Conference, besides other agendas, will outline and make pledges of clear commitment after the withdrawal by NATO and other countries involved in Afghanistan.
The US officials have publicly confirmed their direct talks with Taliban. Germany, the US and Karzai Government are trying to make sure Taliban representation in the conference. Ahmad Rashid in his latest article says the first face-to-face talks between Taliban leaders and the US were held in Munich on November 28, 2010 chaired by a German diplomat, probably Ambassador Steiner (my speculation). On Taliban request, Qatar was also involved in the talks, and the second meeting was held in Doha on February 15. The third meeting was again held in Munich on May 7 and 8 with same participants. These confidence-building meetings were followed by the UN separation of Al-Qaeda and Taliban from the list of global terrorists, on a request from the US. However, a breakthrough in the US-Taliban talks is unlikely by December. Therefore it's less probable that the Bonn Conference will mark the so-called "political settlement". We are still skeptical of success, if any, that the talks will end the conflict in Afghanistan and insurgents stop the bloodshed.
Mr. Steiner revealed that Afghanistan will chair the Bonn Conference on December 5, and there will be one delegation from Kabul. It means President Karzai will be Chairperson of the Bonn Conference, and he will decide participants of the Afghan delegation. All previous such conferences on Afghanistan were either chaired by the UN or host countries, but for the first time Afghanistan will be chairing the event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Bonn Agreement. Mr. Steiner 'hoped' the Afghan delegation will be representative of the 'Afghan people'. Now this is very vague and controversial. Apparently, it's up to Karzai Government to decide participants of the Afghan delegation. It will be more like a state-delegation with hand-picked people of Karzai's choice.
There are several problems, rather fatal mistakes being made in this process. Firstly; it has been the Taliban who have made it clear several times that the Afghan Government is the secondary problem, while their primary conflict is with foreign troops. Mr. Karzai has not the political mandate, particularly after the current tussle with parliament, and the new opposition alliance expressing concerns on the talks with Taliban. Except the circle of Karzai aides in the Government, who from the opposition forces have been in the loop or backing the process? Obviously Karzai's delegation will not be a representative of all political forces, let alone the Afghan people.
Secondly; when President Obama has already announced to start withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan, and all NATO combat troops by 2014, Taliban's primary problem is no longer a problem. What is being ignored by all stakeholders of the current process is the fact that Taliban have more internal problems than external.
A unanimous understanding among all sections of the Afghan society is essential for the success of a political settlement to end the conflict. The current opposition forces in Kabul who are expressing concerns on the talks with Taliban are factions of former Northern Alliance who fiercely resisted Taliban in 90s. They are completely left out in this process towards a so-called "political settlement". If the international community ignores this fact, there are less hopes of any success in the current process, and a revival of the former Northern Alliance is much likely. Already they are teaming up. A grand opposition alliance is in making.
Three prominent players from the former Northern Alliance have announced an alliance and meetings are held with other factions too nowadays. Former vice president Ahmad Zia Masoud, head of People's Unity (Wahdat) Party Haji Muhammad Muhaqiq, and Junbish chief General Rashid Dostum announced the alliance last week. They are having meetings with Younas Qanooni and Abdullah Abdullah has been invited in the new coalition. These opposition forces have expressed concerns about the current process.
Unfortunately the Karzai Government instead of pursuing a pragmatic politics of building and maintaining national unity in Afghanistan has further fragmented the Afghan society with his autocratic rule during the last 10 years. The worst can be seen in the current showdown among the legislature, judiciary and the Karzai Administration. There are less chances of any breakthrough in the Bonn Conference.
For the US, and other international stakeholders of this process, it's important to ensure unanimous Afghan support for the talks and steps ahead. For Taliban leadership who are taking part in direct talks with the US, they must admit the fact that they have more serious problems with Afghans than the international troops in Afghanistan. And realizing this phenomenon, they ought to make understanding with all factions of the Afghan society. Only this way, there could be hope of a "political settlement" to end the conflict.
The direct talk with Taliban in Munich reminds us of the Munich Agreement of 1938 among Nazi Germany, France, UK and Italy on the annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The main party to the conflict, Czechoslovakia, was not present in the agreement. And today they regard it as the Munich Dictate to appease the Nazi Germany. Czechs also call it the Munich Betrayal because of their military alliance with France, which was not honored. The absence of real stakeholders—Afghan opposition forces—who are the real problem for and with Taliban draws some similarities between the Munich Agreement and today's talks with Taliban in Munich.
If Karzai's delegation to Bonn Conference is not inclusive and with support of all Afghan factions, whatever decision made there will have no real mandate and acceptability in Afghanistan.