Bonn II: Seeking a secure future for Afghanistan
M. Ashraf Haidari

Ten years ago on Monday, the international community and various Afghan parties and factions gathered in Bonn, Germany, to lay the foundation of a permanent democratic government in Afghanistan. That momentous event under United Nations auspices marked the start of long-awaited international re-engagement in the country, following the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

Two decades before, Afghans, who had fought one of the bloodiest proxy conflicts of the Cold War against the former Soviet Union, were abandoned by their Western allies and the international community at large.

Indeed, the consequences of neglecting Afghanistan’s post-war reconstruction, after the withdrawal of defeated Soviet forces from the country in 1989, allowed regional players to fuel a proxy civil war in Afghanistan. This resulted in state collapse and breakdown of economy in the country, which provided an easy environment where transnational extremists, terrorists, and drug traffickers could converge and freely operate.

Consequently, a neglected and increasingly isolated Afghanistan began undermining global peace and security, particularly when Al Qaeda, sheltered by the Taliban, masterminded and carried out terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

The response from the United States was swift, supported by a strong coalition of NATO and non-allied countries to topple the Taliban. This classic international intervention was welcomed by the Afghan people, who overwhelmingly backed coalition forces to liberate Afghanistan from the tyranny of the Taliban.   

Since the first Bonn gathering on December 5, 2001, Afghans have held two rounds of presidential and parliamentary elections. They also adopted one of the most progressive constitutions in the region, guaranteeing women equal rights.

Moreover, the writ of the Afghan state has continued to expand across the country, increasingly providing basic services to people in more than 20,000 villages where some 300,000 Afghan national security forces maintain security.

The results of ongoing civil-military efforts are visible everywhere in Afghanistan. Dismal Afghan social indicators have rapidly improved. Some 20,000 community health workers and 2,500 midwives are annually saving more mothers, infants, and children before of the age of five than any time in the Afghan history.

Additionally, Afghanistan has seen a significant increase in the enrollment of students, the recruitment and training of male and female teachers, and the reconstruction or construction of schools across the country. This combined progress has allowed nearly 7 million children — including 2.5 million girls — to go back to school.

These are but a few accomplishments of the Afghan people and government, with international aid over the past ten years.

Nonetheless, valuable international experience, such as that gathered from the reconstruction of the post-WWII Europe, demonstrates that Afghanistan’s ten-year rebuilding achievements are very much a work in progress. Each civil or military gain thus far must be consolidated and sustained, before Afghanistan can firmly stand on its own.

Therefore, at the request of Afghanistan, Germany is hosting a conference of more than 100 nations and international organizations which will meet on Monday in Bonn to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan after 2014, by the end of which most international military forces will have withdrawn from the country.

The agenda of the conference will focus on three important issues of concern to the government and people of Afghanistan.

First, the process of transition currently underway is overly militarized and neglects the civilian aspects of transition to the Afghan control. While Afghan national security forces must be trained and equipped to reach their targeted goal of some 350,000 by the end of 2012, the institutions of democratic governance and rule of law, which play an equally critical role in ensuring long-term stability, must be strengthened at the national and local levels.

Afghanistan needs adequate resources to improve institutional capacity of law enforcement and public administration. This should gradually enable the Afghan government to fight corruption, a systemic problem of weak governance, more effectively.    

Second, Afghanistan seeks to clearly define the long-term international engagement after 2014.

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul and his German counterpart recently proposed three pillars for this: continuing civilian reconstruction, sustaining support for the training and equipping of Afghan national security forces as long as necessary, and helping Afghanistan unlock its immense economic potential for the benefit of the Afghan people and of the region.

Third, international support for an Afghan-led peace process must continue. In a recent consultative traditional Loya Jirga, more than 2,000 representatives of the Afghan people emphasized that reaching a peace settlement with the armed opponents of Afghanistan is an integral part of a comprehensive reconstruction and stabilization strategy.

In other words, peace efforts should not be pursued in isolation, and must comply with renouncing violence, breaking with international terrorism, and respecting the Afghan constitution and the fundamental human rights enshrined in it—including the equal rights of Afghan women.

It is self-evident that the second Bonn conference should be more than just about discussing Afghanistan`s post-transition blueprint for security and development. The country’s nation-partners must learn the lessons of the reconstruction effort to date, and make adjustments. Assistance needs to be better coordinated, and more needs to be done to build the capacity of Afghans so that they can take responsibility for their own future.

Once neglected, Afghans do not want their country to return to the chaos and violence of 1990s. As we learned from the September 11 tragedy and the suffering of the Afghan people throughout the 1990s, a failed Afghanistan is not an option for international peace and security. Success must be the only way forward.

M. Ashraf Haidari is the Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor of Afghanistan, who formerly served as the Chargé d’Affaires, Deputy Ambassador, and Political Counselor of the Afghan Embassy in Washington D.C.