The Bonn II Conference on Afghanistan unfortunately turned out to be no grand event in which the desperately needed breakthrough on the problem of Afghanistan could prove within grasp. Anyhow and after all, it was never intended to be a venue for a major breakthrough and this partly explains the reason. It was diminished to the level of other conferences on Afghanistan that have been convened in recent years.
The outcome, the conclusions, the pledges and the declaration made was no more than customary pronouncements of aid and assistance and the usual refrain of Afghanistan not being abandoned after 2014. The government of Afghanistan pledged that it will continue to strive towards fighting corruption and delivering good governance in return for receiving long-term assistance from the international community. The outcome clearly fell short of what Afghanistan actually needed.
Aside from the issue of long-term international assistance to Afghanistan, the regional dimension of Afghanistan problem was not addressed and was left out of the agenda of the conference. Pakistan's boycott of the conference was a reason but even with the presence of a Pakistani delegation, no breakthrough would have been possible as addressing the regional dimensions of the problem of Afghanistan was never part of the Bonn II agenda.
At a minimum, Afghanistan was able to at least secure the reaffirmation of international community's commitment to the cause of Afghanistan beyond 2014, although given the changing global scenario and the shifting international priorities, we cannot be certain that the international community will indeed act on all of the pledges it made to Afghanistan.
The Pakistan conundrum Pakistani media now report that the government of Pakistan has "upgraded" its air defense systems on the border with Afghanistan after the NATO air strike on November 26 that killed some two dozen Pakistani border forces. This is surely a sign of the times and suggests the extent to which Pakistan has taken seriously the attacks and how it views the NATO presence inside Afghanistan, which is becoming increasingly negative.
The Director General of Military Operations in Pakistan military has now admitted that some 19 out of 31 coordination officers, who have so far been posted with NATO and Afghan forces for coordinating the counter-insurgency war, have been recalled. The relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have come under strain in recent months especially after the Abbotabad operation and killing of Osama bin Laden.
However, the recent episode has catapulted the relations between the two countries to new lows and has had deeply adverse impacts on cooperation mechanisms that had been set up between the Pakistani military forces and NATO-led ISAF forces based in Afghanistan.
The coordination committees that were set up by ISAF, Afghan security forces and Pakistani military included coordination officers from all three forces. The intelligence and information sharing that took place through these committees allowed Afghan and NATO forces to gain the upper hand in fighting the flow of militants into Afghanistan.
What is disturbing is that this much useful coordination mechanism is in risk of collapse following Pakistani military's unilateral recalling of its officers. This will have negative impacts on intelligence sharing and will diminish the ability of Afghan and NATO forces in relation to breaking the momentum of the insurgency in the eastern sector.
Some bitter facts
The airstrikes now seem to have been, in fact, acts of provocations by some elements within the American and NATO's military inside Afghanistan. These elements and their dangerous adventurism, If anything, prove Pakistan's, and for that matter Iran's, worst fears about the presence of Western forces inside Afghanistan.
This presence is indeed proving to be a double-edged sword - both an asset and a liability; an asset when the NATO-led international coalition supports Afghanistan's transition to a stable and functioning state and provides security, and a liability when the same forces indulge in dangerous adventurism by deliberately attacking a neighboring country's border posts and stoking the fires of regional tensions in pursuit of their own regional agendas.
On the other hand, this fact goes against Afghanistan government's assurances that the extended Western military presence inside Afghanistan will not be a threat to Afghanistan's neighbors. Such irresponsible actions by American and NATO forces inside Afghanistan and their sheer adventurism undercut Afghanistan government's attempts to assure the neighbors and gradually build mutual confidence with them.
The deteriorating situation involving the NATO-led ISAF, the Pakistani military and its civilian government and the government of Afghanistan and its armed forces, risks degenerating into a tit-for-tat covert conflict.
We have been witness to developments of this kind in the past in which these same parties were involved in trying to get each other bogged down through use of proxies. The proxies were either Taliban militants, the bought-for-cash Fidayeen and suicide bombers or the use of many other levers.
Now, the need of the hour, one assumes, is that these three disparate parties come together and get their collective act together in fighting the common enemy which is extremism and militancy in the broader region.
Barely a few days ago, we witnessed how religious extremism and militancy reared its ugly head again and took a heavy death toll of mourners who had come together to perform their religious rituals. Only one day after the events in Kabul, scores of other innocent Afghans were killed and injured in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan that hit a bus. These deeply sad events prove once again the true nature of these forces and the need to heal the region of the disease of extremism, militancy and Talibanism.
As long as the inter-state regional relations in the neighborhood where Afghanistan is located continue to suffer from these festering wounds, the events of the Ashura day in Kabul would only happen again. Calming the inflamed regional nerves and cleansing the countries of our region from the curses of militancy and extremism are not goals that can be reached overnight.
It would take years and sustained efforts by the governments and people involved to gradually work towards restoring normalcy and genuine peace and good neighborly relations. What is worrying is that the ongoing trend is the opposite of what actually should be done.
Tensions are running high and the contradictory positions and actions of the stakeholders only contribute to perpetuating the atmosphere of mistrust and covert and overt antagonisms. A paradigm shift in regional relations is long over-due.