Istanbul Conference – A Partial Focus On Afghan Stability
Bassam Javed


The year 2011 has opened new vistas for Afghanistan as concerted efforts being put in by all stake holders have provided a glimmer of hope to achieve what has eluded Afghans for too long: stability, peace, development and prosperity. The year not only marks the end of the decade of foreign intervention in Afghanistan after eviction of Taliban from Kabul but is also turning out to be a decisive year wherein strategic accords are being worked upon to create Afghan peace and stability by the time US-led forces are withdrawn.

Two conferences are coming up in this regard; one in Istanbul on 2 November and the other in Bonn on 5 December to augment and support Afghan efforts in building peace, developmental infrastructure and prosperity in Afghanistan. Here, we will be focusing on Istanbul Conference that will be attended by regional countries comprising ‘Heart of Asia’ and some other members of the international community. The aim of the Istanbul Conference as projected in the preparatory conferences held elsewhere in Oslo and Kabul was to define a vision for regional peace and development through participants’ commitments for a stable and independent Afghanistan and to discuss regional economic cooperation.

Notwithstanding the urgent need to stabilize Afghanistan, the half hearted and un-coordinated peace efforts undertaken by various stake holders independently have failed. Also, the withdrawal time line of the foreign forces has not been worked out. With these two major shortcomings, holding of Istanbul Conference does not appear to be in consonance with other dynamics required for Afghan stability. More so, instead of articulating modus operandi to extract solemn and formal pledges from participating countries the draft declaration focuses on erecting a new architecture to oversee peace process, stability, development and prosperity in Afghanistan. This architecture will be composed of fourteen countries from South and Central Asian and the Middle East. The selection of the countries is liable to be challenged by countries bordering Afghanistan at the very start of the conference as some of these countries do not share borders with Afghanistan.

The conflicting objectives of Istanbul Conference i.e. one relating to Afghanistan and the other on the regional countries dilute the importance of each other. The draft document projects that the internal stability of Afghanistan can be achieved utilizing external initiatives through a regional architecture tantamount to give an impression that all of Afghanistan’s problems are external. Going by Istanbul document will mean that focus on progress and reconciliation, resurrection of Afghan governance, return of refugees from Iran and Pakistan, endorsement of peace process and Afghan sovereignty by the countries bordering Afghanistan, has been over ridden by focus on corroboration and support by a larger group of countries on regional agreements that would derive out of the Conference. Not only this, there is a move by the US to create a ‘contact group’ of countries to consult on Afghan security. The original agenda may also be hijacked by the US as it is feared that the Conference will be utilized to devise a mechanism for speedy withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. The forums of purported regional architecture and creation of the contact group will not deliver on Afghanistan since bilateral strategic issues between some of the countries forming the core groups will spoil the Afghan peace stabilization process.

The critical issue faced by Pakistan and also by Iran has been completely side lined in the draft Istanbul Conference prepared is the presence of millions of Afghan refugees that has tremendously burdened the respective economies. The draft declaration has no mention about the fate of those refugees. Also, to the detriment of both Pakistan’s and Iran’s security interests, the document also equates immediate neighbors like Pakistan and Iran with distant neighbors like India. The document also enhances the role of India in Afghan affairs.

Pakistan shares 2560 Kms long border with Afghanistan and its security gets affected by events in Afghanistan. The Istanbul Conference will do well by focusing only on an all acceptable declaration that establishes principles accompanied by an implemental plan for a sustained economic assistance from international community to built and develop Afghan infrastructure. In the context of Pakistan’s interests, the draft document prepared by Turks for Istanbul Conference does not cater for them. Pakistan has always been proud of its decades old relationship with the Turks. Both the countries have been of great strength to each other in times of crises. What compelled Turkey to off-set Pakistan’s interest in the draft document is not known. May be Turkey wanted to win back the West’s confidence that spiraled down for its firm and moral stand on Palestinian issue and the Middle East through extra regional agenda on Afghanistan. But then should it be done in complete disregard of the interests of its age old friend, Pakistan?