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Saikal Attends Munich Conference on Future of Asia

On 21-22 June 2012, Mahmoud Saikal, Former Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and Member of NCA Leadership Council, was one of the key speakers at the Munich conference on "Re-Thinking Asia: Visions for Common Security with the Indo-Pacific in the 21st Century". The conference was attended by more than 30 specialists and experts from Asian and European Countries.

After his presentation on embedding a sovereign Afghanistan in regional architecture, Saikal made the following recommendations:

Given the global restructuring of power and complexity of regional issues, multi-pronged political, security and economic initiatives need to be taken at unilateral, bilateral and multilateral levels in order to remove the bottlenecks from the Afghan conundrum and pave the way for better regional cooperation.

Western powers, more specifically the US, which intend to remain entrenched in Afghanistan beyond 2014, need to take a number of confidence-building measures to reassure Afghanistan and its neighbors that their long-term presence in the region is solely for the purpose of combating terrorism, stabilizing Afghanistan and keeping their legitimate interests and that they have no other motive. They should encourage the neighbors of Afghanistan and other regional countries to share the peace dividend of the country and become a beneficiary of it.

Establishing a NATO-China Council (NCC), similar to that of NATO-Russia Council (NRC), may provide a platform where regional and global security challenges, including US rebalancing and Chinese assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific, could be addressed.

Understanding and respecting Afghanistan-Iranian neighborly relationship and letting it grow within its legal limitations, is crucial for Afghanistan and an eventual resolution of Iranian-Western tensions. As the situation stands, Iran cannot tolerate any long-term US military footprint in Afghanistan, but at the same time cannot afford to see the return of the Taliban to power. Similarly, if Iran is destabilized, it will have a devastating impact on Afghanistan. Hence, it is the weight of Afghanistan-Iran neighborly relations that may facilitate the much needed compromises.

With the Afghan bubble-economy, made up mainly of war expanses and foreign aid, shrinking as ISAF/NATO forces depart untapped Afghan natural resources and improved trade and transit could fill the gap. Western powers and international financial institutions need to genuinely promote and support the regional economic cooperation efforts of Afghanistan and its neighbors, and try to coordinate their legitimate interests with them within legal frameworks. Neglect in this area may give room to illicit drugs to step in.

Initiatives need to be taken in ways that could minimize the impact of other regional conflicts on Afghanistan: for example, tensions between India and Pakistan, Iran and the US, Russia, China and NATO. Afghanistan could position itself as a neutral country, valuing its regional and international ties.

Building confidence and trust between Afghanistan and Pakistan is an imperative. Direct dialogue between the two countries needs to be increased at all levels and away from Pakistan-India tensions. The existing Joint Peace Commission between the two countries is an appropriate platform for direct security talks; however, the Afghan delegation combination needs to be more representative of the Afghan people. Both countries must develop joint strategy for combating terrorism and extremism.

International pressure shall continue, at all levels, on Pakistan to curb its nurturing and use of violent non-state actors for political purposes. The international actions in this respect should be coordinated with the UN Security Council, relevant regional countries and democratic forces of Pakistan. One such action could be a UN Security Council-backed reform program within Pakistan to integrate the country’s military and its powerful ISI into a democratic system of governance.

Pakistan’s outstanding regional disputes need urgent attention. They include an agreement with India for a solution of the Kashmir problem; a resolution of the disputed Durand Line, which has generated a lingering problem between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a prerequisite to a successful implementation of many of the bilateral projects in the area of security, economic and cultural cooperation; and a bilateral dialogue on the Kabul river water sharing agreement, although this could be a slow process, as Afghanistan lacks water experts and data.

Intense democratization and institutionalization to continue in both countries, with a focus on improved rule of law, education, public health and productivity. Efforts are needed to make Afghanistan a livable place for its citizens so that they are not forced to leave the country and seek refuge in Pakistan. Official discussions on legal migration to start between the two countries, with a focus on skilled labor exchange programs.

Economically, practical measures need to be taken for enforcing the full implementation of APTTA. The agreement calls for an arbitral tribunal to be established bilaterally, with both sides agreeing on a common name for a third arbitrator. Given the past problems in the implementation of the previous agreement, the WTO and/or the European Commission could play a significant role in the initial implementation of the agreement.

Ignoring the relevance of national political architecture to regional and global architecture and vise versa, will have devastating consequences. Inside Afghanistan, the battles of democratization verses tribalism and legality verses illegality must ultimately end in favor of democratization, rule of law and good governance. A peaceful way to settle this is the 2014 constitutional Presidential Election. Taking the security of the election and improving electoral process, in particular amending the election laws, are crucial to the credibility and transparency of the election.

Afghan intelligence and border patrol and defence capabilities need rapid strengthening in order to overcome the security challenges beyond 2014. For better management of regional cooperation, Afghanistan needs a proactive and creative regional diplomacy; an authoritative ambassador at large for the promotion of regional cooperation; training relevant Afghan officials of different sectors within a specific pool dedicated for regional cooperation; improving relevant agencies coordination; defining clearly the roles of stakeholders in regional cooperation; introducing administrative restructuring in key sector ministries; establishing leadership in RECCA and Istanbul processes; setting up a bipartisan forum of Afghan regional thinkers and experts; and launching a nationwide regional cooperation awareness campaign.

For effective use of resource growth poles, attention is needed in improving the national mining law of Afghanistan and the system to deal with mineral development on a large scale. Also, for reaching commercially viable Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) Afghanistan and its electricity-rich northern neighbors are in need of active diplomacy, negotiating skills, better knowledge of energy complexities and proper legal and physical infrastructure. Under international laws of riparian waters, Afghanistan is obliged to engage in bilateral and multilateral discussion with its neighbors. Making a commitment to engage in discussion, no matter how slow, would be welcoming news to the neighboring countries. For that to happen, Afghanistan needs more data on its waters and more water experts.

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