x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Afghanistan summit seeks a strategy for peace

Forty nations represented in meeting in the capital as delegates discuss means to bring an end to eight years of war.

Richard Holbrooke, right, the US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, talks to Shah Mehmoud Qureshi, the Pakistan foreign minister, at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
Richard Holbrooke, right, the US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, talks to Shah Mehmoud Qureshi, the Pakistan foreign minister, at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

ABU DHABI // As the US sends 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, participants at a security summit here stressed the need for a more comprehensive strategy and better intelligence-sharing to bring the eight-year conflict to an end.

The meeting at the Emirates Palace hotel was attended by representatives to Afghanistan and Pakistan from 40 nations, including Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative to the countries. The group discussed the need to bring moderate Taliban elements into negotiations, the strengthening of democracy, foreign aid and the agenda of a critical London ministerial meeting on Afghanistan at the end of the month.

Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan foreign minister, said the comprehensive strategy should include the US military surge as well as plans for infrastructure, reconstruction, sustainable development and strengthening the Afghan military. "It's absolutely necessary for a transition into a new phase," he said. The summit was attended by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and his counterparts from Pakistan and Jordan. It came just weeks before the London meeting, which the German delegate has threatened to skip if the focus is purely on providing troops.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, also attended the summit. He said it "in many way prepares the ground" for future discussions. Violence has escalated in Afghanistan over the past month, and Mr Holbrooke described this as a critical period. There have been calls from all sides for better intelligence since a suicide bomber killed seven US Central Intelligence Agency employees in the country last month.

In a report released last week, Major Gen Michael Flynn, the US military's intelligence chief in Afghanistan, described American analysts and intelligence officials in the country as "ignorant", "hazy" and "starved of information". In response to a question on the breakdown in intelligence, Mr Holbrooke said US officials were in close communication with Pakistan and "share a great deal of intelligence".

But Mr Spanta said he wanted Pakistan to "enhance co-ordination and co-operation" in sharing military intelligence with Afghanistan. Although Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, said his country would extend all possible assistance to its neighbour, he stressed that the country's destiny must be determined by the people of Afghanistan alone and Pakistan was responsible only for the challenges within its borders.

"The Afghan war has to be fought within Afghanistan," he said. "The challenges with Afghanistan cannot be resolved in Pakistan. On our side of the border, Pakistan is capable of looking after the problem." Mr Spanta said that at the London meeting, his government would be looking for a timetable to shift control to Afghan forces. "We want a commitment to enable Afghan security and defence forces to take leadership over important provinces in the next three years, and the entire country within five years," Mr Spanta said. He said a potential part of the solution would be utilising "elements" of the Taliban that are willing to accept the Afghan constitution.

The meeting yesterday was the seventh of its kind and involved unprecedented participation from Arab nations, which Mr Holbrooke said brought a dramatic change in tone to the discussions. "It's not just Europeans talking about a country in south Asia," he said. "There's a dramatic change in tone because we're here in an Arab country." The UAE has about 250 troops in Afghanistan involved in humanitarian missions, and has also provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the country.

Dr Gargash said the country's commitment to the mission to create stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan would "reflect positively on the region as a whole". Kai Eide, the UN's representative for Afghanistan, stressed the importance of the role of Arab nations. "We [the UN] have been seeking greater contributions from Muslim countries," he said. "In that sense this conference has been another good contribution to that effort."

Arab and Muslim nations are, he said, "showing an increase in resources and political attention, which is a good step in the right direction". @Email:lmorris@thenational.ae * additional reporting by Sean McLain