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Envoy to Afghanistan on Bonn Agreement Success

Former U.S. Envoy to Afghanistan Reviews Bonn Agreement Success

James Dobbins says internal, external factors helped Afghanistan

By Phillip Kurata
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington –- The former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, James Dobbins, says the implementation of an international plan to put in place a moderate, reform-minded Afghan government during the past four years has been “remarkably successful.”

The plan, known as the Bonn Agreement, was negotiated at an international conference in Bonn, Germany, in late 2001.

“The Bonn Agreement, which was negotiated four years ago, has been a remarkably successful road map toward Afghanistan’s political evolution, in which all of its benchmarks have been met more or less on schedule,” Dobbins said in a presentation at George Washington University in Washington October 5.

The U.S.-led military campaign to oust the Taliban regime and capture al-Qaida terrorists began on October 7, 2001, following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.

Dobbins attributed the success in Afghanistan to five main factors:

• the high level of competence displayed by the international civil servants and Afghan leaders who participated in the Bonn conference and oversaw the implementation of the agreement;
• war weariness among the Afghan people;
• the presence of an internal resistance movement;
• the active support of Afghanistan's neighbors -- Russia, Iran, India and Pakistan -- for the Bonn Agreement; and
• modest, limited U.S. objectives for Afghanistan.

Dobbins said that the team of international experts that drafted and oversaw the implementation of the Bonn Agreement were "first rate." He singled out for particular commendation U.N. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi and one of the intellectual architects of the Bonn Agreement, New York University's Barnett Rubin.

Dobbins had generous praise for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was put at the head of the Afghan Interim Authority on December 22, 2001, and was elected president in Afghanistan's first free presidential election in October 2004.

"Hamid Karzai has proved to be an adept politician capable of winning support from a wide range of political groups," Dobbins said.

Commenting on the war weariness of the Afghan people, Dobbins said, "there was strong pressure on all the participants in the Bonn conference from their constituents toward compromise."

The more than two decades of civil war starting with the Communist coup in 1978, followed by the Soviet invasion and rule by the Mujahideen and the Taliban, had exhausted the population and created a strong desire among them for peace, Dobbins said.

Dobbins said the existence of the Northern Alliance resistance movement, which had fought the Taliban and won the support of many Afghans, was a critical factor in the success of the Afghan reconstruction effort. He said the Northern Alliance was in control of most of Afghanistan by the time the Bonn conference took place and provided the basis for a new government.

The former special envoy to Afghanistan said the support of Russia, Iran, Pakistan and India for a "moderate, modernizing, nonthreatening regime" was a vital element that forced the Afghan parties to stick to their agreement. During the period of civil war, the competing aims of Afghanistan's neighbors contributed to its instability.

"There was a real sense of solidarity among the neighboring states, a desire to see this work and send a signal to all the Afghan factions that they were no longer to receive assistance if they did not adopt this accord," Dobbins said.

A decisive moment occurred in the Bonn negotiations when the Russian ambassador told Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah that Afghanistan could not expect further Russian assistance if the factions did not support the Bonn Agreement, Dobbins said.

Dobbins said Russia acted on a request from former Secretary of State Colin Powell who had telephoned his Russian counterpart to say that the agreement was near completion and Moscow's support was needed to seal it.

Dobbins said Iran played a constructive role in the Bonn conference by suggesting that the agreement contain phrasing calling for democracy and fighting terrorism by the future Afghan government. Dobbins said his instructions at the Bonn conference were to press for "a broadly based, representative government. That was our objective. The word 'democracy' was actually introduced into the Bonn talks on the recommendation of the Iranian delegation."

Dobbins said the limited U.S. diplomatic objectives with regard to Afghanistan also contributed to the success of implementing the Bonn Agreement. He said the United States was wise not to make declarations that after introducing democracy to Afghanistan, it was going to try to make Afghanistan the political model for Central Asia.

As for the future of Afghanistan, Dobbins said, "democracy is great, but it is not enough." The formal Bonn Agreement process ended with the elections for the lower house of the Afghan Parliament and provincial councils in September.

Dobbins said security throughout the country has not been established and economic development needs boosting. He said he hopes for substantial contributions from the international community at the next Afghan donors' conference planned in January 2006 or February 2006.

The largest sector of the Afghan economy is the opium business. Dobbins said it will take time and effort to wean Afghanistan away from opium profits and provide its people with alternative means of livelihood.

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