United Nations, NY, February 11, 2011: H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, joined a panel of fellow ambassadors in an open discussion entitled, “Afghanistan: Is a Negotiated Settlement Possible?” Jeffrey Laurenti, Senior Fellow and Director of Foreign Policy Programs at the Century Foundation facilitated the panel and Co-hosted, the event along with Jeanne Betsock Stillman, President of the United Nations Association Southern New York State Division. The panel was a part of a day-long event organized by the Century Foundation and Mid-Atlantic region of the United Nations Association of the United States.
Former American Ambassador to Afghanistan, H.E. Robert Finn responded to questions about the changing role of the Taliban after international forces intervened in Afghanistan. He explained that there is a need to focus on rebuilding infrastructure and strengthening security in the country. The US Military, he says, considers the progress of the Afghan army to be successful thus far, and that the Taliban does not have the “upper-hand.”
H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin responded to questions about possible negotiations with the Taliban. He emphasized that “there is no military solution alone” in Afghanistan, and that it is the responsibility of the Afghan government and international forces to work together to bring peace and stability to the country. “The road to peace,” he said, “is through reconciliation.” The Afghan government is not yet engaged in formal talks with the Taliban, but supports reconciliation with those Taliban who are willing to disassociate with Al-Qaeda and terrorism, renounce violence, and accept the Afghan constitution. “The reconciliation is not an end, it is a means,” Ambassador Tanin explained. He highlighted three underlying issues that must remain central in the context of reconciliation: The ‘end state’ of the stabilization process, according to Ambassador Tanin, is defined by the end of the war, and establishing the Afghan leadership and ownership. The constitutional framework of the country, including human rights and democracy must be protected. Finally, International and regional partnerships must be balanced throughout the transition to Afghan-led security efforts through 2014 and beyond.
When asked about the potential for Pakistan delivering Taliban members as negotiators, H.E. Abdullah Hussein Haroon, Pakistan Ambassador to the United Nations, emphasized that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are separate entities. He explained that it is difficult for Pakistan’s government to stop the Taliban from entering Pakistan, comparing it to the US’s border control struggle with Mexico. However, the Afghan and Pakistani governments are working together to control the situation, he said, and Pakistan has a stake in the security and stability of its neighbor.
A lively question and answer session followed the debate. Key themes of this discussion included speculations about the potential for peace in the country’s future, a recognition of the thriving intellectual and cultural Afghanistan of the 1960s, and a debate about the effectiveness of international involvement in the country.
The full text of the opening remarks given by Ambassador Tanin are below:
How Afghanistan Views Negotiation with the Taliban
“As we know, there is no military solution alone in Afghanistan. At the same time it the prime responsibility of the Afghan government and of international forces present in Afghanistan to end the war and bring peace and security to the Afghan people after decades of suffering. It is our understanding that the road to peace is through reconciliation.
This year with the beginning of the transition to Afghan leadership, particularly the step by step takeover of the responsibility of security, talks with the Taliban are becoming an essential part of the stabilization efforts.
The government of Afghanistan is not yet engaged in formal talks with the Taliban but it has taken all necessary steps to widen its contact with those Taliban that can be reconciled. The representatives of all political and social groups of the country through the High Peace Council have started to engage in peace talks.
In fact, a mutually reinforcing military and political stabilization effort will eventually lead to the beginning of negotiations with the Taliban. This is a position that both civilian and military leaders continue to support.
The official position of the government of Afghanistan on reconciliation is simple and clear: we want to talk to and reconcile all those Taliban who are ready to join the peace process in the country.
Our red lines for the negotiation to start and an agreement to work are based on a principled minimal proposition: disassociation with Al-Qaeda and terrorism, renouncing the violence and accepting the constitutional framework. Such a position provides a reasonable foundation for any solemn settlement.
The reconciliation is not an end, it is a means. As such, it should not be seen in isolation from three underlined issues:
A. The “end state” of the stabilization process is defined by the end of the war, and establishing the Afghan leadership and Afghan ownership.
B. The constitutional framework of the country which guarantees the human and fundamental rights of people; a peaceful and democratic basis of governance; and regular, peaceful transfer of leadership.
C. The regional (rather international-regional) context. Peace and stability in Afghanistan is closely linked with a balance of relations between Afghanistan, its international partners and its neighbors.
The debate about the negotiation is based on different perceptions about a political solution. Obviously, we are not expected to negotiate a military exit from Afghanistan. The negotiation is aimed at engaging the armed opposition in a peace process to end the conflict. A peace agreement would allow the Taliban a safe return, security, and peace dividends. It is not about an anti-constitutional suggestion for power-sharing or establishing a coalition government. But reconciliation will provide the Taliban, from the low ranks to military leaders, with the prospect of taking part as a political force in political process, including elections, and social and economic life of the country.
Our history did not begin in 2001 and will not end in 2014. As President Karzai has suggested, 2014 is the date that Afghans will take the lead of security of the country. 2014 is not the last rendezvous in Afghanistan. The partnership between the US, NATO and Afghanistan will endure for a long time beyond 2014. We signed an enduring partnership document with NATO in Lisbon in November 2010. We are now working with the relevant authorities of the US to prepare a new strategic partnership document in the coming months. These historical agreements, hopefully, will frame a secure prospect of lasting relations between Afghanistan, the US and NATO.”
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