Handle Pakistan carefully, says Japanese Expert
October 14, 2011
One of Japan’s outspoken disarmament and conflict experts, Kenji ISEZAKI, offers some very interesting and pragmatic, though radical, thoughts when it comes to Pakistan’s present predicament and Afghanistan’s turmoil. Currently a professor at the Graduate School of Area and Culture Studies, Head of Peace & Conflict Studies, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Isezaki sees little hope in the project called Afghanistan. He believes many flaws, saying temporal as well as high-handed nature of the American approach will keep undermining all peace efforts. “I had warned Lakhdar Brahimi, former US secretary general’s special envoy to Afghanistan,” said Isezaki, “back in 2004 that the DDR concept will not work”.
Prof. Kenji Isezaki, a much sought-after person for his experience in conflict-resolution, oversaw two major DDR (disarmament, demobilization and Reintegration) campaigns -- United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) between 2001 and 2002, and Special Representative of Japanese Government in Afghanistan (2004). Prior to the appointment in UNAMSIL, Kenji Isezaki served another peacekeeping mission, United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), from February 2000 to May 2001, as District Administrator (Governor) in Cova Lima (the most sensitive area bordering Indonesia). He was directly responsible for law & order in the district by exercising supremacy over UN Peacekeeping Force (1,500 personnel in one combat battalion and one engineers battalion), UN Civilian Police, UN Military Observers, and Confidence Building Measure with Indonesian Army on cross border issues.
At a public seminar organised by the International House of Japan/Japan Foundation in Tokyo as part of the Asia Leadership Fellow Programme 2011, Isezaki made some very interesting observations, some of them not very different from the conclusions that former British ambassador and special representative to Afghanistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles has drawn in his book “Cables from Kabul”.
Cowles is critical of the American push in Afghanistan, and he is also one of those who meanwhile believe that the Afghanistan project had a poor foundation.
“The real fault lay in the design of the whole project: a constitution drafted by a Frenchman and imposed by an America that was (and is) out of sync with Afghan political realities. A constitution which imposes something like fourteen separate national elections in twenty years is not really sustainable, politically or economically,” writes Cowper-Coles.
Similarly, Mr. Isezaki is also unhappy with the absence of Taliban insurgents from the Bonn and Tokyo conferences. NATO nations have, he thinks, perused peace in Afghanistan on false assumption. Afghan insurgency is not about weapons, but about hearts and minds, he says.
The Americans and allies have all the hardware, but not enough time. Nor does any ideology bind them into a war that has become too long for democracies that have to undergo a test or change after a cycle of four to five years.
Taliban/Militants on the other hand live off conviction – however weird—and have plenty of time; they are not bound by fears of accountability in elections nor are their hands tied by legal covenants.
According to Mr. Isezaki, some of the major mistakes / shortcomings in the US-led Afghan Policy are:
a) Taliban – the losers – were not part of the Bonn Peace Process. Over-confident Americans refused to talk to the Taliban because they were probably hopeful of “total victory” (like they did with Japan by dropping two nuclear bombs on it and also razing half of Tokyo to rubble in 1945.
b) The Coalition did not make any alternate arrangement to fill the vacuum created by the Taliban flight to Pakistan’s border areas.
c) DDR 2004 was tied to the American and Afghan elections, and, thus, a counter-productive disarmament campaign; the Japan-led mission demobilized 60,000 combatants, but everything happened in a rush and nobody knows for sure how much of it was genuine. The DDR managed to secure almost 98 per cent of all heavy weapons, but we were not sure whether all those fighters and commanders really remained became part of the mainstream or went back to fight the government and coalition troops.
d) The way DDR was pushed on to Afghanistan amounted to offering incentive to insurgents without negotiations. They will keep asking for more and see what is happening in Afghanistan today.
e) It was reintegration without top-down reconciliation, and thus not successful.
f) Reconciliation and military offensive cannot go hand in hand. Such an approach basically minimizes chances of peace.
g) Pakistan is very important for ending the conflict in Afghanistan. It must be seen as a crucial part of the solution and not as a problem. Pakistan must be handled with care, rather than being blamed for others’ failures in Afghanistan.
h) The Afghan insurgency is a warlords’ war for political and territorial influence and has no real ideological foundation.
i) The presumption that Taliban and Al Qaeda are one is incorrect and thus the strategy to separate Taliban from Al Qaeda is out of sync with reality.
j) The American/NATO expedience has turned Afghanistan into the world’s leading narco state.
k) Biggest hurdle in the way of disarmament and demobilization of Afghan militias and weapons were some very powerful warlords whom America used to ride into Kabul.
Isezaki believes that the Coalition, in its desperation to defeat or win-over Taliban, committed many mistakes like “mass-producing” 50,000 policemen just in the year 2004 ahead of the presidential elections. As a result, the police force Afghanistan has today is nothing but a symbol of a corrupt Karzai regime.
The Japanese disarmament expert believes that President Obama’s July 2011 withdrawal deadline as well as NATO’s July 2014 withdrawal deadline are in effect self-defeating exercises. Why should the militants allow them to pullout without any challenge.
As a whole not only Prof. Isezaki, but also senior Japanese officials dealing with the Af-Pak region are also unhappy about the way the US-led Coalition has handled Afghanistan so far. They believe that reconciliation accompanied by a forceful military campaign will lead nowhere. Nor will the demonisation of Pakistan serve any purpose. Japanese officials also expect Pakistan to explain the rationale of its current foreign policy which might be helpful to the country at international fora. Food for thought for Pakistan’s government and the military.