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Seeking an Afghan fix

Last week's Kabul conference - where dozens of global leaders tried to hammer out a plan to fix the Afghan mess - was, by most accounts just another brainstorming exercise. There were platitudes in plenty and an equal amount of grandstanding, especially by the US and Nato representatives, but there is no getting away from the fact that behind the bravado lies frustration over an increasingly lost battle with the Taliban and assorted warlords that are running amuck in Afghanistan. Seumas Milne, in The Guardian on July 21 wrote, "We are accustomed to the idea that Iraq has been a disaster;now we are getting used to seeing the war in Afghanistan in the same light. It has failed in every one of its ever-changing objectives - from preventing the spread of terrorism and eradicating opium production to promoting democracy and the position of women, which has actually deteriorated under Nato occupation according to Afghan women's groups. " He also articulated a sentiment that finds echo in the international community: "What it has now really come to be about is the credibility of the US and Nato.

For what is now taking place in Afghanistan has the potential to reinforce what has already been demonstrated in Iraq: namely the limits of US power to impose its will by force. "

Another Guardian columnist, Richard Barret, wrote, "it is clear that the military option has not succeeded. The injection of billions of dollars of foreign aid has also failed to produce any tangible benefit. Projects are ill-conceived, the economic benefits flow to contractors rather than to the people...A third approach - reconciliation - was not discussed in public during the conference, but it is now high on everyone's agenda. " Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that the US and Nato forces seem resigned to the eventuality of having to form some sort of truck with sections of the Taliban to bring about some stability to the war-torn country.

Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, pitched himself, once more, as the only man who could save his country at the conference. But sceptics were scathing in their criticism of Karzai's leadership. Stephen Kinzer minced no words on The Daily Beast: "The Afghan leader is treacherous, his government notoriously corrupt. Yet at Tuesday's Kabul Conference, Western leaders blessed him, cheering his promise to have the war won by 2014 and pledging to send half their aid directly to his corrupt regime. " Gerald Warner, writing in The Telegraph, UK, on July 21 slammed the manner in which Western countries were handling the Afghan crisis by stating that the "Kabul conference is surreal theatre featuring the defeated Western allies in competitive denial. " He went on to say, "the year 2014 has somehow become the generally acknowledged date when Afghanistan will become an infidel-free zone. The tragedy is that, to give a cosmetic plausibility to the frothings of Clinton, the Hague et al. , hundreds more of our soldiers will be condemned to die pointlessly. "

It came as no surprise that Pakistan sought a critical role in sorting the Afghan situation at the conference. Some of Pakistan's positions and concerns were articulated in a Dawn editorial on July 22: "In terms of rhetoric at least, Tuesday's international conference in Kabul was officially presented as a tour de force. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it a "turning point" in the Afghan war while the meeting was also hailed by luminaries from across the globe...Few in the region would argue that foreign troops should remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. The affairs of the country should ideally be of concern only to its own elected leaders and the security personnel over whom they wield command. It is perhaps also inevitable that Kabul will, as it has been suggesting of late, enter into negotiations with Taliban leaders who are willing to embrace a democratic set-up. That said, the idea of a pull-out deadline is deeply flawed...there must be no pull-out in a vacuum where anything can happen. " Meanwhile, the Daily Times commented, "it is no secret that India's rising influence in Afghanistan has not made it [Pakistan ] very happy. Thus a proxy rivalry is going on in Afghanistan and unless the west can put a stop to it, hunooz Kabul door ast (it's still a long way to Kabul).

Even as the international community debated Afghanistan's future, locals there were less than enthusiastic about the conference and what it sought to achieve. Nushin Arbabzadah of The Guardian observed that "judging by the blogs, ordinary Afghans either failed to get excited or, alternatively, were thrilled to be hosting no fewer than 70 global dignitaries in their dusty capital. " She cited blogs by Afghans to illustrate this point. Among them was a blog called Dialogue, where Afghan writer Hazara summed up the ordinary Kabul resident's disenchantment with the situation: "When all is said and done, I don't think that this conference will offer the people anything beyond just that - two days of holiday and the tedium of being stuck in traffic jams. "

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