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Can the UN Save Afghanistan?

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One of the missing elements in the ongoing drama over Obama's policy review in Afghanistan is the role of the United Nations. The UN, lest we forget, has played a central role in Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. After all, on September 12, 2001, the UN Security Council authorized American retaliation against Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts via a resolution that invoked the UN Charter's "inherent right of individual or collective self-defense" and permitted "all necessary steps" to strike back at the "perpetrators, organizers and sponsors" of the murderous attacks against the US.

Still later the Council created the International Security Assistance Force composed of NATO troops, which was also dispatched to the land. In 2002, the UN designated a UN Special Envoy to help set up Afghanistan's first post-Taliban provisional government and a two-year transitional administration - all ratified by a loya jirga (Council of Elders). The Special Envoy also helped write a new Afghan constitution, and in October 2004, again under UN guidance, the nation elected its new president, Hamid Karzai.

The UN, led by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) - as well as its other agencies - have kept a presence in the country ever since. Most recently, the UN oversaw the 2009 presidential election and, when it found fraud, declared there to be no winner in the first round and ordered a run-off.

Given this extraordinary and continuing role in Afghanistan, it would seem appropriate at this time that the UN might consider guiding President Obama toward a resolution of the dilemma he now faces, whether he must send in more troops and whether there is a respectable exit to the eight year long conflict.

How can this be done? Presumably the UN could use its good offices to propose convening a conference similar to the loya jirga it convened in 2002 - except this time it would be organized on a broader regional basis, bringing in all of the states which border Afghanistan, all of the NATO countries now in the country, as well as India and Russia, to hammer out a comprehensive peace plan.

Such an initiative would be carefully geared to serve the interests of all parties - even the Taliban - to meld together all the disparate geographical, ideological, cultural, and political interests in play. Only the UN is uniquely equipped to undertake such a venture. It is time to give it a try.

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