By Irfan Shahzad
As American president Obama and his top men put their heads together for another review of their Afghan strategy, focusing on the ‘draw-down’ by announced date of 2014; various other global players – including groupings of countries and inter-governmental organisations – are also weighing their options and strategies in their own right.
It was also observed in the summit of Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held in Astana, the picturesque and purpose-build-capital of Kazakhstan on December 1 to 2. While majority of the summit’s participants, including heads of state or government of 38 nations, were heard linking the global security with the situation in Afghanistan, Hillary Clinton was pressing the participating countries for an enhanced role in Afghanistan’s stability and post-conflict development.
The “Astana Commemorative Declaration” issued at the end of the summit underscored the “need to contribute effectively, based on the capacity and national interest of each participating State, to collective international efforts to promote a stable, independent, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan.” OSCE is the world’s largest security grouping, including not only America, Canada and developed Europe, but also Russia and states of the former Soviet Union.
The 56-member bloc, also having 12 ‘partners’ that are not full members, seemed to have a unanimity of views on this particular angle that the European and Eurasian security is directly dependent upon the situation in adjacent areas. Noting that Afghanistan shares 1200 miles of borders with OSCE member countries, Hillary Clinton emphasised that instability in Afghanistan was a threat “not only for Afghanistan but for OSCE” as well.
A collective concept of security, besides transnational issues such as arms and narcotics smuggling were the focus of the two-day summit. All of these issues found their relevance with Afghanistan, in one way or the other. The importance of this mega event was that a summit of OSCE was being held after 11 years; with last such summit held in Istanbul in 1999. This became possible with the tireless efforts of country chairing the organisation in 2010, Kazakhstan.
President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazerbayev, was indeed right stressing the need for an all-encompassing approach to the Afghan imbroglio saying that “we are in favour of a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan.”
Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon declared Afghanistan as a test for the OSCE stressing for a long-term commitment in capacity and institution building by OSCE in the country. He underscored the need for a closer collaboration “to ensure that the transition process [in Afghanistan] is sustainable and irreversible”. He also announced to launch a “Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries” in 2011, aimed at fostering “cross-border cooperation to counter 21 century transnational threats of drug trafficking and organised crime”.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai whose country has a ‘partner for cooperation’ status at OSCE, also addressed the summit. As was expected, he mentioned yet again that ‘international terrorism’ was a “major threat to Afghanistan and the world” with Afghan people being the worst affected of the malaise. He also tried to emphasise his country’s relevance for, and need of help from, the OSCE. Highlighting his government’s efforts to eradicate the production and transportation of drugs from Afghanistan to the OSCE, Karazi said that hundreds of security forces and Afghan civilians have lost their lives for the purpose. He commended the OSCE for training and capacity building of Afghan officials as well as economic cooperation. Karzai also thanked his Kazakh counterpart for offering one thousand scholarships for Afghan students and putting Afghanistan high on the agenda of OSCE during last one year of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship.
It must be noted here that Kazakhstan, the chair of the OSCE, has also announced to join the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and will be contributing troops. It has also announced 1000 scholarships for Afghan students, and 55 of these scholarships have already been granted.
The summit came at a point when Russia has already agreed to provide transit supply routes to NATO troops engaged in Afghanistan. Now, with the commitment shown at the OSCE Summit, it remains to be seen that what actual steps OSCE and its member states come up with regarding Afghanistan. Kazakh chairmanship end on December 31, and now it is up to the future chairing countries.
While Afghanistan was a point of agreement between, OSCE participating states, Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia issue and conflicting opinions on these issues prevented any strong plan of action for the OSCE to be issued at the summit. Yet, the summit, as a whole was a notable success. The leaders addressing the summit also underscored the need for greater efforts from the OSCE for global economic recovery, climate change and environmental issues, fundamental freedom and human rights.
The summit also highlighted Kazakhstan as a vibrant country. The country proved that despite being a relatively young nation, it can bring together the global community to discuss and debate the important global issues. Experts are of the view that prior to Kazakh chairmanship, OSCE had practically been dormant and this year of continued struggle on part of the chairing country, has put the organisation back on track. The momentum needs to be kept up.
The writer works with Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. He attended the OSCE summit held in Astana, Kazakhstan, on December 1-2