As leaders in Afghanistan and the US plead with Pakistan to reconsider its decision to boycott an upcoming international conference following a NATO airstrike that killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers, analysts are concerned that Pakistan’s absence may spell the end of the Afghan peace process.
“The participation of Pakistan was important in the Bonn Conference because the countries who are involved in the conference wanted to talk to Pakistan about negotiations and peace in Afghanistan,” says Sharifullah Kamawal, a member of parliament from Kabul. “Since Pakistan is not there now, there won’t be that much progress with the negotiations with the Taliban and bringing peace to Afghanistan.”
Ten years after the first Bonn Conference, many hoped round two on Dec. 5 would address serious issues about Afghanistan’s future, which is strongly tied to Pakistan. With numerous insurgent havens, Pakistan is seen as a potentially critical interlocutor in any talks with the insurgency.
Over the course of the last year, however, Afghanistan and the US have found themselves increasingly at odds with Pakistan. Frustration with Afghanistan’s neighbor to the east and its inability or unwillingness to address the problem of terrorist havens, especially after Osama bin Laden was found inside Pakistan, have come to a head.
Knowing these concerns were likely to take center stage in Bonn, Germany, some say that Pakistan is using the airstrike incident as an excuse to avoid the conference and side step any confrontation about its relationship to terror groups.
“Pakistan knows that it will be criticized for interfering Afghanistan’s affairs and also not taking the needed steps to stop terrorism, so that’s why they are trying not to attend the conference and make this border issue much bigger than it is,” says Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, a member of parliament from Kandahar province in the south of Afghanistan. “Since they directly interfere in Afghanistan and everyone knows about this that’s why they don’t want to show up at this conference.”
Still, the NATO attack has caused widespread outrage in Pakistan. Pakistanis say that the US violated their sovereignty and showed a fundamental disrespect for their country with the bombing. "This incident is going to be a major hurdle," says Rahimullah Yusufzai, an independent analyst and editor of Pakistan’s The News International
Ten years of American-led war in Afghanistan have seen numerous international conferences and summits, most of which resulted in marginal results at best. With or without Pakistan at the upcoming Bonn Conference, many Afghans say the event will still most likely just be talk without change.
“Pakistan shows its two-face policy all the time. In the open they are saying that they want prosperity in Afghanistan, but they are also sending people to destroy Afghanistan,” says Younas Fakor, an independent political analyst in Kabul. “Pakistan has attended other conferences before, but still we have this problem.”
Lasting solutions to these issues are likely to be found in backrooms far from the Bonn Conference, say many analysts. Treaties will likely be needed to forge agreements that provide all parties the confidence required to produce substantive talks.
The most recent border incident in particular raised a number of concerns about how Afghanistan’s foreign policy will affect Pakistan in the future, an issue that must be addressed to bring Pakistan back to the table.
“The feeling is that Pakistan protested and said why was Afghanistan’s soil used by NATO forces against Pakistan? Afghanistan needs to reassure Pakistan. It also needs to reassure it about its security agreement with India because Pakistan is very concerned with Indian influence in Afghanistan,” says Mr. Yusufzai.