A move to Islamabad has three advantages:
1. The Pakistani government would have to agree and participate;
2. It would help mend fences with Pakistan by acknowledging the obvious, which is that Pakistan is a vital and central player in this conflict; and
3. There would be an opportunity for insurgent representatives to attend, which would provide for at least a slim hope of real progress.
The response by NATO diplomats to moving the conference would likely be indignation. Western debutantes have already lined up their five-star hotels in Bonn and have already arranged all their fancy dinner parties. A last minute change to Islamabad would mean holding the conference in a secure location, potentially even a Pakistani military installation, with limited frills, no lavish accommodations and potentially no alcohol. That would simply not do.
Inviting India to this conference and pushing India to close its unnecessary and provocative consulates in Afghanistan would help to alleviate some of the current distrust and tension. Inviting representatives from all the insurgent groups, along with Afghan women’s rights advocates and officials from Afghanistan’s minority groups, such as the Hazara, might just result in something productive.
The decision to hold this conference in Bonn was a dismal one. The original 2001 Bonn conference was convened by the West and attended by warlords, mujahideen leaders and other factions supported by the CIA and foreign powers. Afghans should not be reminded of this undemocratic and unsavory assembly by having a second conference in the same city, attended by many of the same parties. One wonders what genius thought up this idea.
The problem with the Bonn conference is that it is designed to be superficial. The goal is to have senior NATO diplomats fly in, be entertained and then “agree” on a bland ending communiqué of progress (which communiqué has already been drafted and approved). The exercise is more a news media event than anything of substance.
A better idea would be to have a conference with no end-date. Those attending would remain and work for as long as it takes, even if it takes a month. Henry Kissinger is probably the last U.S. Secretary of State who had the skill and tenacity necessary to actually hash out delicate and complex international agreements between warring parties. He did so in Hanoi and then again in the Sinai. “Star Power” gets one publicity and friendly media coverage, but it does not translate into any tangible diplomatic achievements. That requires plain, old, hard work. Ending the Afghan war is worth the effort.
On November 27, 2011, the Washington Post published an opinion piece entitled: ”Afghanistan is Safer Today.” It was written by senior NATO official Simon Gass.
To Mr. Gass, comfortably housed in a NATO fortress in Kabul, Afghanistan may actually appear to be safe. Out-of-touch NATO officials may be seeking a superficial Bonn conference in part because they seem to believe their own propaganda. As a result they see little urgency to change course or to adopt a more realistic negotiating strategy with the insurgents and Pakistan.
A conference in Bonn would be a party, while one in Islamabad would involve work. Senior diplomats unfortunately almost always choose the party.