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Peace Must Be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”, Diplomats Say

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 22 2010 (IPS) - The U.S. move to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan may be seen in Washington as the only effective and viable strategy to stabilise the country, but not everyone in the diplomatic community here at U.N. headquarters agrees.

“I am not an expert on military matters. [But] the solution to the Afghan situation is not the military one,” Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, told IPS in response to a question about whether an increased U.S. military presence would be helpful in bringing peace.

De Mistura, a long-serving Swedish diplomat, briefed the U.N. Security Council Wednesday about the situation in Afghanistan. He stressed the need for a political solution, and said avoiding civilian casualties was a “must” to make international efforts for peace and development a success.

His take on the military aspect of the conflict’s resolution also resonated in the speeches of several diplomats who took part in the discussions. Speaker after speaker emphasised that political dialogue, national reconciliation and development initiatives were the key.

“Success doesn’t depend on military operations,” Mexican ambassador Claude Heller told the Council. In his view, the situation in Afghanistan demands intense efforts for development and increased efforts to protect the lives of civilians who are falling victim to armed attacks from both sides.

Diplomats from France, Brazil, Iran and several other countries noted that as a result of the prolonged military conflict, more and more civilians were suffering and said that effective measures must be taken to facilitate the transition of power to Afghan authorities due to take place in 2014.

At a NATO summit held in Lisbon in November, it was agreed that security would be handed over to Afghan authorities by that date, and that before and during the transition process the world community would intensify its efforts to help Afghanistan rebuild itself from the ruins of war.

“Afghanistan needs the sustained support of the international community,” said Wang Min, the Chinese deputy ambassador to the U.N., reflecting on the transition process. But the initiatives for peace, reconciliation and development must be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”, he added.

Many diplomats agreed that in addition to international support, Afghanistan needed to reach out to its neighbours to improve its economic and social conditions, which have fast deteriorated due to the armed conflict.

One of Afghanistan’s neighbours, Iran, said it fully supported the idea of regional cooperation for the country’s reconstruction, but added that the prolonged military presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan was making it hard for its neighbours to take effective measures for peacemaking.

“Nine years have passed since American and NATO forces entered Afghanistan. The main justification of the military incursion was eliminating the threat of terrorism,” said Iranian envoy Eshagh Alehabib. “However, it is very hard to assess the achievement so far and the prospect for the future.”

Alehabib noted that, “even [in] the newly unveiled Military Strategy Review, the U.S. government casts some doubts on the attainment of [its] desired goals.”

Referring to the growing civilian casualties, he asked whether “we could [more accurately] call this situation an achievement for the military forces”.

“Putting the lives of innocent people at the mercy of drone attacks, yes – prima facie, there has been some achievement,” he noted.

U.S. envoy Rosemary DiCarlo defended Washington’s strategy in Afghanistan. “We have broadly arrested the Taliban’s momentum,” she said. “[But those gains] are still fragile.”

She told the Council members that Afghan forces would take full responsibility for security by 2014. However, she made it clear that the transition process would be gradual. “It’s a transition strategy, not an exit strategy,” DiCarlo said.

Since October 2001 when the U.S. launched military operations in Afghanistan, nearly 20,000 Afghans have been killed and about half a million wounded, according to, an independent group formerly known as Iraq Body Count.

For its part, the U.S.-led coalition forces have lost 2,100 soldiers as a result of armed attacks by Taliban fighters in the nine years of war that shows no sign of an imminent end, according to analysts.

Last week, the Red Cross International issued a statement from Kabul warning that there were likely to be more civilian casualties in 2011.

“We are growing increasingly concerned about the conflict. It’s spreading and intensifying and we’re [likely] to see another year of conflict with dramatic consequences for civilians,” Reto Stocker, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Afghanistan, said on Dec. 15.

Civilian deaths and injuries resulting from the conflict have continued to rise over the past two years and civilian communities have been forced to take sides in the war, the organisation said.

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