(Reuters) – Afghanistan should be given more responsibility for its own security and administration with progress checked against six-month benchmarks, the United Nations’ top diplomat to the country said.
With around 150,000 NATO-led troops faced off against a Taliban insurgency at its strongest since their overthrow in 2001, Western governments are keen to pull out but fear the Afghans are not yet ready to take more charge.
“It is a chicken and egg situation, but the chicken is saying ‘we are ready to produce an egg’,” Staffan de Mistura, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for Afghanistan, told Reuters in an interview.
Over 60 foreign ministers — including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — gather in the Afghan capital on Tuesday for a conference at which President Hamid Karzai will plead for more control of $13 billion in Afghan aid and development.
The country has received over $40 billion since 2002, but Karzai says the government has handled only around 20 percent of that and much of the graft and waste complained about in the West was lost through direct channels.
“They have a point,” de Mistura said, arguing that if the government institutions were seen to be driving development, ordinary Afghans would support it.
He drew parallels with Iraq, where he served as the U.N. special envoy at the height of violence there.
“The moment they started taking their own future in their hands, we saw an improvement — not perfect by any means, but an improvement.”
NOT READY FOR PEACE
Security remains the biggest factor.
“We all know, everybody knows, everybody recognizes, that there is no military solution to the conflict.”
“However there is, unfortunately, still a perception that the time for dialogue is not ready. The Taliban don’t seem to be indicating yet that they are ready for that dialogue.”
Although Washington did not want to see the Taliban leadership included in peace talks, it would be up to Afghans to decide “who was allowed inside the tent,” he said.
The government has offered amnesty and reintegration to low-level Taliban fighters who agree to abide by the constitution, renounce violence, and quit militant groups.
Asked if this should be expanded to Taliban leaders, he said: “… if anybody on the Afghan side would accept those three conditions, it would be difficult for the community … to say you aren’t allowed inside the tent.
The conference will hear Karzai and his ministers present blueprint of projects and timetables de Mistura believes could deliver results within a year.
Asked what differences he expected in six months, he said:
“First we will see the Afghans taking much more seriously the fact that responsibility has been given to them and therefore they need to make some major effort on the issue of accountability, corruption and delivering concrete assistance to their own people.
“Second, I hope we will be seeing progress on security, and therefore the ideal time for political dialogue, but between now and six months on the security side it will probably look worse before it looks better.
“What we need before the six months is over is … a vision by the Afghan government which will be articulated in a way that will engage and reassure every stakeholder — both internally and outside, and regional stakeholders as well — of what Afghanistan can and should be looking like in two years time,” he said.
(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)