By Jaya Ramachandran
A high-profile think-tank is pleading for assigning a critical role to the UN within a framework of far-reaching proposals aimed at averting “another civil war” after NATO’s withdrawal of combat forces at the end of 2014.
“A negotiated political settlement is a desirable outcome to the conflict in Afghanistan, but current talks with the Taliban are unlikely to result in a sustainable peace. There is a risk that negotiations under present conditions could further destabilise the country and region,” says the International Crisis Group headed by Louise Arbour, former UN (United Nations) High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Internal political divisions and external pressures have debilitated the Karzai government. It is therefore poorly positioned to cut a deal with leaders of the insurgency, argues the Brussels-based Crisis Group in a report released March 26. Moreover, Afghanistan’s security forces are ill-prepared to handle the power vacuum that will occur following the exit of international troops.
“To avoid another civil war, a major course correction is needed that results in the appointment of a UN-mandated mediation team and the adoption of a more realistic approach to resolution of the conflict,” says Crisis Group report.
“No matter how much the U.S. and its NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies want to leave Afghanistan, it is unlikely that a Washington-brokered power-sharing agreement will hold long enough to ensure that the achievements of the last decade are not reversed,” adds the report, warning: “A lasting peace accord will ultimately require far more structured negotiations, under the imprimatur of the UN, than are presently being pursued.”
The UN Secretary-General is asked to initiate consultations with Afghan government leaders on the role of the world body following NATO withdrawal; seek counsel particularly from the permanent members of the Security Council and key regional actors, especially Pakistan and Iran, about the design of a UN mediation team, led by a designated envoy, to facilitate negotiations.
The Secretary-General should further appoint a mediation team composed of internationally-respected diplomats, scholars and jurists to facilitate the negotiations process by no later than March 2013, says the Crisis Group.
“Members should include a balanced mix of men and women and should be recognised for their demonstrated experience and expertise not least in regional politics. The team should consist of five to seven individuals under the chairmanship of a designated envoy selected by the Secretary-General,” the report stresses.
The UN team should be empowered and resourced to facilitate negotiation of an agenda that addresses economic, legal and political concerns of the leading parties to the conflict and arrives at a political settlement that includes: a constitutional reform exercise; mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing implementation of the accord and for regular assessments of those mechanisms; and solid financial and political guarantees from key international players that resources for monitoring and enforcement will be available for a minimum of five years following signature of the accord.
The Crisis Group urges the members of the UN Security Council, regional partners and major donor countries to avail of the remaining time before completion of the NATO withdrawal at the end of 2014 to:
- work with the UN to identify a mediation team that can effectively engage the Afghan state, insurgent leaders, regional actors and the international community;
- conduct consultations with relevant governmental bodies on engaging in negotiations under the rubric of a UN-mandated facilitation effort; and
- apply restraint in the initial phase of negotiations to ensure buy-in to the process by the Afghan government, political opposition and insurgent groups.
The report further pleads for giving more vigorous support to regionally-backed cooperative arrangements by holding consultations on the design and architecture of a consultative mechanism that includes regional actors (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India and bordering Central Asian states) and other external players such as the NATO, Russia, China and the U.S.
The Crisis Group asks the Security Council to adopt a resolution mandating Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a team to be responsible for designing a multi-stage mediation process and undertaking consultations on the negotiating agenda with the leading parties to the conflict well before the completion of the security transition.
The negotiating team, it says, should be under the direct guidance and management of the Secretary-General but should liaise with and draw on the resources and capacities of UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) to advance a coordinated negotiation process.
The report also calls for a thorough assessment of the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program to determine specific benchmarks for continued financial contributions to it, including improvements in vetting, monitoring and oversight.
“Consider defunding the program at the end of its life-cycle in 2015 if no demonstrable progress is made in these areas, and an internationally-backed political settlement that includes a robust plan for reintegrating and rehabilitating insurgent force has not been reached,” suggests the report.
Transparent Negotiation Process
The Crisis Group pleads for creation of a fully inclusive, transparent negotiation process that respects the country’s diversity and is protective of the rights of all citizens.
The Afghan President and Parliament are asked to:
- Conduct a thorough reassessment of the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) and initiate reform of the High Peace Council; ensure that the monitoring and evaluation team publishes in Dari and Pashto every quarter a report on program, joint secretariat and council activities that includes a thorough assessment of expenditures as well as policy and implementation challenges. Consider discontinuing the APRP program if, by the end of its funding cycle in 2015, participation remains low and insecurity high in areas where the program has had historically low buy-in.
- Appoint a small negotiating team with the aim of building trust between the parties and fostering a structured, sustained dialogue. Members of the government team should be drawn from the National Security Council, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and Afghan civil society and include women, ethnic minorities, civil servants experienced in local governance and economic issues and jurists with demonstrated expertise in international and Islamic law. Input on nominees should be sought from relevant branches of the executive as well as from parliament. Relatives of sitting office holders and individuals with active links to armed factions should not be considered.
- Conduct greater public outreach on government plans for reconciliation to ensure that a broad spectrum of citizens contribute to shaping the negotiating agenda; consider supporting a nine- to twelve-month program of nationally supported television and radio programs focused on seeking public input to the peace process, as well as providing support for structured community dialogues to take place at the local level.
- Conduct domestic consultations on planning for a constitutional convention to take place upon the signature of an internationally-guaranteed accord; devise a plan to hold a national referendum on constitutional reforms recommended under the aegis of the constitutional convention.