Wednesday, October 19, 2011


US pushing for international monitors on Pak-Afghan border
Tom Hussain,, October 20, 2011
ISLAMABAD: The United States is urging Pakistan to accept international monitoring of its border with Afghanistan as part of a regional security solution, security experts say.

A formal Pakistani response is still forthcoming to the proposal, which was circulated as a “non-paper” in late September at a conference on Afghanistan in Oslo, they said.The Track-2 diplomatic draft calls for the 14 countries of the Istanbul Conference, including Afghanistan’s six neighbours, to agree to collective mechanisms that would safeguard the sovereignty of Afghanistan and ensure non-interference in its affairs.

The experts said a major sticking point for Pakistan was a proposal for a group of specialist border monitors that would be tasked with enforcement of that agenda. The border monitoring specialists would be drawn from the member states of the Istanbul Conference, which brings together Afghanistan, its six immediate neighbours, other regional powers and the US at a forum formed to address the future security of Afghanistan.

“The problem with a monitoring group enforcing the agenda is that it would largely focus on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” said Simbal Khan, director for research at the Institute for Strategic Studies Islamabad, a government think tank.

The security input from the Istanbul Conference, to be finalised on November 2, is a critical component of a wider plan for political and economic transition in Afghanistan up to the withdrawal of Nato forces in 2014.

The plan is to be finalised by the international community at the 2nd Bonn Conference on December 5. The first Bonn Conference, held in 2002, resulted in the existing political dispensation in Afghanistan.

A further serious impediment to Pakistan’s agreement would be the participation of India in any enforceable monitoring mechanism for Afghanistan’s borders, the experts said. India joined the Istanbul Conference late last year, but only after Pakistan was persuaded to withdraw its objection.

The conference also includes Pakistan’s key diplomatic partners, China and Saudi Arabia. The proposed Afghan border monitoring mechanism ignores Pakistan’s outstanding complaints that India has exploited the instability along the Durand Line to covertly support Tehrik-i-Taliban and Baloch insurgents, the experts said.

While Pakistan has not made public any evidence of such Indian interference, the security experts said they had received tacit confirmation from “non-US” NATO governments with forces in Afghanistan.

“The Indians are all over Pakistan, but we don’t want to take this seriously. The fact that the US cannot see this is gobsmacking,” said Christine Fair, a security expert at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

The experts said that the proposal was “the one most favoured by the US,” as it prepares to withdraw the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan by 2014. They said the Afghan government wanted the mechanism because it would provide a substantial structure for the security of its borders.

But the proposed monitoring mechanism would also negatively impact Iran, the security experts said. Like Pakistan, it hosts a substantial population of Afghan refugees, and has been accused by the US of supporting insurgent groups in Afghanistan, and of providing safe havens to Al Qaeda.

Iran has recently drawn closer to Pakistan to promote what it calls a “regional solution to a regional crisis”, the experts said. Pakistan has since the summer engaged in intense lobbying of Istanbul Conference members in an effort to galvanise support for the concept, the experts said.

It has yet to be given shape in any Track 2 diplomatic draft, but may surface in proposals currently being jointly developed by government think tanks in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. The trilateral proposal would be presented at the Bonn Conference.

Pakistan’s renewed engagement this year with Iran and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours is led by Asif Ali Zardari, the president. Pakistan’s diplomatic strategy is based on a policy consensus between the presidency and the military, and is tacitly supported by China, the experts said.

(Tom Hussain is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist)

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