On 14 October the Atlantic Council hosted an extraordinary event, a “Roundtable on Providing Security and Stability in Afghanistan: Uzbekistan’s View” as part of its Eurasia Discussion Series.
Tashkent deployed its top diplomats to the event, including former ambassadors to the U.S. Abdulaziz Kamilov, now First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Sodiq Safaev, currently Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rounding out the trio was Dr. Doniyor Kurbanov, Deputy Director of the Institute of Strategic and Interregional Studies.
Their mission? To explain to Washington’s elite Uzbekistan’s “6+3” proposal for peace in Afghanistan.
As Operation Enduring Freedom enters its tenth year with no clear “victory” in sight, their message represents the international community’s best and most pragmatic hope for finally achieving peace of Afghanistan after 31 years of conflict.
Ambassadors Kamilov and Safaev outlined the principles behind Uzbekistan’s 6+3 concept, with Ambassador Kamilov noting that there is no military solution to Afghanistan’s turmoil. He added that the country is awash with 10 million small arms, 14 per person, the highest ratio in the world.
Uzbekistan’s 6+3 proposal was first floated at the April 2008 by Uzbek President Islom Karimov during the NATO summit in Bucharest, but it was completely overshadowed by the Bush administration's relentless efforts to have Georgia and Ukraine join the alliance. President Karimov proposed that the UN's Afghanistan "6+2" assembly, established in 1999, be revived by expanding it into a "6+3" ensemble by including NATO because of its anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan among the "six" members Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, China and Iran and the "two," the United States and Russia. More recently, on 20 September President Karimov spoke of the proposal at the United Nations General Assembly 65th meeting.
Further developing the theme for the relevance of the proposal, Ambassador Kamilov told this reporter that U.S. and NATO forces will ultimately have to leave Afghanistan and Central Asian states are under no illusions that foreign forces will forever remain in Afghanistan, as their mission is temporary and will obviously end, the only question being “when.”
Needless to say, the Obama administration does not yet fully concur with this sobering assessment, but the reality remains that the ISAF military mission remains a quagmire, as Taliban and insurgent forces increasingly tighten their grip in the countryside with only the cities remaining under collation control in a classic illustration of Mao’s theories on guerrilla warfare, that the countryside surrounds the cities.
Ambassador Safaev reminded his audience that all 11 of Afghanistan’s rulers in the 20th century were eventually removed from power, with six being killed, underscoring the necessity of 6+3 in providing a forum where all the warring factions could negotiate a settlement to the conflict.
Both ambassadors emphasized that Afghanistan was an “organic” part of Central Asia and that peace would provide an opportunity for massive growth in Central Asia’s economies, as Afghanistan would become a significant transit corridor for Central Asian energy and other products. Both also stressed that instability in Afghanistan rippled outwards throughout Central Asia, most notably in the June disturbances in Kyrgyzstan’s southern Osh region and last month’s terrorist attacks in Tajikistan.
Addressing the issue of the Taliban’s participation in discussions, Ambassador Kamilov told this reporter that it was important to engage in the negotiations with moderate Taliban that are the main counterinsurgency force, adding that the international community need not negotiate with extremists, terrorists and those reactionaries blindly supporting the idea of reestablishing a Caliphate in Central Asia, much less extremist and terrorist movements. As both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO International Security Assistance Force commander General David Petraeus have both acknowledged having discussions with the Taliban, this hardly remains a sticking point.
The audience expressed concern about Iran’s participation, to which Ambassador Safaev quietly pointed out that as Iran population is 60 million and the former Soviet Central Asian states 55 million, it was unrealistic to think of excluding them, especially as they share a common border with Afghanistan and are as anxious as the country’s other neighbors in seeing peace there.
Questions were also raised as to why Afghanistan was not part of the 6+3 grouping, to which both ambassadors replied that the 6+3 forum was to be a venue for brining all of Afghanistan’s factions to the table to begin their negotiations to end the conflict and that such inclusion would be de facto favoring of one element over the others and could well lead to other elements boycotting the proceedings. The ambassadors were too polite to remind their audience that the 20 August 2009 Afghan presidential and provincial council elections were marred by charges of wide-scale fraud from international observers, in which Karzai received 49.67 percent of the vote. As Karzai failed to win a majority Afghan election law required a run-off which was subsequently cancelled on 2 November by officials of the election commission cancelled, who declared Karzai had won a second five year presidential term. In March Karzai blamed UN and EU officials for widespread fraud in the country's recent elections, a charge the Obama administration strongly rejected, labeling the charges “preposterous.”
Ambassador Safaev also touched upon the need to quell Afghanistan’s surging drug trade, which the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates will produce 3,600 tons of opium this year. Again, both ambassadors were too polite to mention the rampant corruption in Afghanistan fuelled by the drug trade, with Karzai’s brother Ahmad Wali reportedly a drug trafficker with a private army who runs Kandahar in the manner of a Mafia don. Earlier this year during a classified meeting at ISAF’s headquarters, General Stanley McChrystal, the then NATO commander, was given a dossier on Ahmed Wali Karzai by officers who wanted him removed.
Washington had a marked reluctance to endorse any foreign policy initiatives that originate from outside the Beltway, even when they’re in America’s best interests, such as the recent Turkish-Brazilian nuclear agreement with Iran. Given the tenor of the questions at last night’s presentation, there is little reason in the short term to believe that Uzbekistan’s 6+3 proposal will be treated differently.
What makes 6+3 unique and important however is what Johns Hopkins Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Chairman Fred Starr observed, that it is a local generated regional initiative. Sharing a common border with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan has had the unhappy experience for 31 years of watching its southern neighbor slide ever deeper in a morass of war, terrorism and drug production. While “mission creep” was evident last night, with Washington pundits seeking to add bells and whistles to the proposal, the reality is that 6+3 is the best, indeed the only proposal out there attempting to break Afghanistan out of its vicious cycle of war and poverty by engaging not only all the warring factions but all the regional powers as well, along with the “superpowers – the U.S., Russia and NATO.
While deluded Washington hawks believe that military “victory” in Afghanistan is somehow possible, the fact remains that “mission creep” is expanding the war via Predator airstrikes into Pakistan, while recent events in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan indicate that the turmoil from Afghanistan is rippling northwards as well. It’s time for Washington to abandon its “alpha male” diplomatic approach, acknowledge that a sober and realistic proposal has come from the region, and begin to use it as a basis for a lasting piece in Afghanistan, rather than seek some high-tech military victory in Afghanistan, which finally produces yet more jihadis after their families are maimed and killed as “collateral damage.”
Ambassadors Kamilov and Safaev delivered a proposal that has a real possibility of delivering lasting peace to a country wracked by violence for over thirty years. The question is whether anyone in the audience can promote their proposal over and above Washington’s vision of a “light at the end of the tunnel” military victory in what has become America’s longest war.
It is time to start listening to our true friends in the region rather than lecturing them. If Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British )thrice) and the USSR, all military superpowers of their time failed to pacify Afghanistan, then America’s persisting in a “military” solution in Afghanistan can best be described as touchingly naïve at best.
By. John C.K. Daly of OilPrice.com