Deja Vu and Diplomatic Showbiz in Bonn

Even before Islamabad decided it would not attend the international conference on Afghanistan, the local media had already made up their mind on its value, describing it as The Bonn Moot, presumably with as much power to effect change as a sixth form debating society.

With 80-odd countries taking part and more than 1000 delegates, it may well be the biggest international meeting held in Germany since the Berlin Conference that sounded the starting gun in the Scramble for Africa, but it’s difficult not to conclude that this is largely a talking shop.

Just like the original Bonn conference in 2001. Sherard Cowper-Coles, the former British ambassador to Kabul, spells out its failure in his book Cables from Kabul

“I tell how I came to see that the Taliban had never been defeated in 2001-2; that the Bonn settlement that had followed had been a victors’ peace. from which the vanquished had been excluded; and that the constitution resulting from that settlement could last only as long as the West was prepared to stay in Afghanistan to prop up the present disposition.”

With the Taliban not present – and far from defeated – it seems that nothing has changed, except this time the West is getting out and we’ll be left with a retreaters’ charter rather than a victors’ peace. And this time even Pakistan won’t be there, reinforcing another of the crucial failures spelled out by Cowper-Coles, this time in The Daily Telegraph…

“And, ignoring all the lessons of the Great Game, we failed to engage Afghanistan’s neighbours and near neighbours systematically in the struggle to return Afghanistan to its proper place as the crossroads of south-west Asia.”

In the absence of any real idea of what to do about Afghanistan, we’re just left with another round of “diplomatic showbiz”.


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