Afghanistan's 'Asia Heart Conference'

06/08/2012 04:53 am ET | Updated Aug 07, 2012

Can the poison cure the patient?

The NATO summit in Chicago last month endorsed the military pullout of Afghanistan by 2014; approved the broad lines of transitional financial support to the Afghan security forces up to 2024; left decisions about future development assistance to an international conference to be held in Tokyo in July; and left "regional confidence building measures" to the "Heart of Asia" ministerial conference to be held in Kabul on 14 June.

Although the final declaration of the Chicago summit paid lip service to the application in Afghanistan of basic principles of international law regarding equality of rights for women, nowhere in the summit's conclusions did the Alliance consider the recent negative Afghan developments for the status of Afghan women or the predictable step backward that a return of the Taliban to the Afghan government would imply.

This was rightly perceived as the main message sent by the Summit. Predictably, we could soon read in the international press: "Afghan women leave Afghanistan in fear of Taliban return" as the main reaction from Afghan women to the NATO summit from where they were conspicuously denied representation.

Now, quite likely as in the past, the official view seems to be that the very same neighbouring forces that harboured and promoted the warlords that poisoned the country - and first among them all the Taliban - are better instruments to cure its hills than the traditional tribal structures, the moderate leaders and the forces of peace and progress within Afghan society.

Peter Tomsen - a retired US diplomat and author of the reference work published last year on Afghanistan, "The wars of Afghanistan: Messianic terrorism, Tribal Conflicts and the Failures of Great Powers" - recently proposed that the US should clearly, directly and effectively confront Pakistan's continued use of support for terrorism as a means of international policy: namely by including the Taliban, the Hekhmatyar and the Haqqani fronts in the State Department list of the terrorist organisations; and to include Pakistan in the list of terrorist-supporting countries if its government does not change course.

The mouthpiece of the US State Department, "Foreign Policy", reacted to Ambassador Tomsen's major book, dated September 2011 with an article signed by Charles Cogan and titled "don't shoot the Mailman" that starts with the quotation: "There are three ways to get into Afghanistan: through Russia, through Iran, and through Pakistan. You take your choice."

Other than the fact that there is no more Russia in the borders of Afghanistan, the State Department seems not to take in consideration that the problems in Afghanistan indeed originated in its neighbourhood rather than within the country and that much more is expected from the US diplomacy than being a "mailman".

Mr Cogan justifies US financial support to the most radical jihadi forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s on the basis of their military capacity. This is a circular argument and completely fails to consider the strategic analytical capacity of US diplomacy.

The official line of the rebuttal mixes a paternalistic indulgence - being traumatised by the brutal partition, Pakistani identity can only be asserted by a savage refusal of its past and roots and the creation of a strident Islamist brand - with a resolute state of denial: "his criticism (Ambassador Tomsen's) of Pakistani policy in Afghanistan as "unholy," is patent, and it gives the book an unfortunate polemic tinge".

In Ambassador Tomsen's view, an assertive position of the US on terrorism and the possible radicalisation reaction in Pakistan, quite on the contrary, would strengthen "the growing regional and global correlation of forces against the protected terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, symbolized by bin Laden's Abbottabad safe heaven."

Far from being an "unfortunate polemic tinge" I believe such a position from the United States is the only long-term efficient way to combat the logic of hate and to promote peace, security and development in the region, namely in Pakistan itself.

As history proved abundantly, logics based on hate and fanaticism can never be appeased, appeasement itself serving for their promoters to reinforce the conviction of their righteous character. A policy that would help the economic development and regional integration of the country; that would promote education and tolerance; that would eliminate the direct and indirect means of promoting fanaticism within the country and across the borders might not be popular among Pakistani military-security establishment and some of its elites, but would certainly be welcome by most of the Pakistani population that is concerned with development, freedom and peace.

The only possible basis for any workable therapy to "Asia heart" diseases has to depart from the full respect of the sovereignty of Afghanistan and therefore the end to the support of cross-border terrorism from its neighbours into the country and other forms of blatant interference in its internal affairs; the full consideration of its civil society, its constitution and the rule of law.

This means to take the "re-Talibanisation" of Afghanistan out of the agenda and to replace it with the promotion of serious and effective regional co-operation for development. Being a member of both the South and the Central regional clubs and bordering both West and East Asia, Afghanistan is indeed well placed to perform the role of the Heart of Asia it did in distant and not-so-distant times, if only rather than the poison that destroyed the country in the recent past, Afghanistan could enjoy some genuine support and understanding.