Wednesday, May 14, 2014

US commitment to Northern Ireland peace 'should be applied to Afghanistan' --- Barack Obama should copy America's 20-year commitment to the Irish peace process and keep engaged with Afghanistan instead of a zero-option military pullout, a former US diplomat has urged the president and his administration. -- David Sedney, the former deputy American assistant defence secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, has also suggested that a neutral George Mitchell-type figure should be appointed to chair fresh peace talks between rival Afghan parties. -- The diplomat and expert on the region also warned that the US and Nato needed to leave behind a force of 15,000 to adequately train, mentor and equip the Afghan security forces into the near future. Some voices on Capitol Hill have been calling for a total withdrawal of all foreign forces by 2017. -- Following discussions with peace negotiators and former paramilitaries in Belfast, Sedney told the Guardian the lesson from Northern Ireland was that the current and future US administrations had to take a longer policy view on Afghanistan. -- "The hostilities that occurred over a long period, like the Troubles did over four decades, require a longer-term commitment. Which is exactly what is needed in Afghanistan. Talking to people in Belfast last week I was impressed by the fact that they, as key actors in the peace process, understand that you need continued effort to keep it going. -- "American administrations from Bill Clinton, to George W Bush and on to Barack Obama have also invested time and effort in the Northern Ireland peace process. -- "Long-term commitment requires hard work and sacrifice but this place [Northern Ireland] is a good example of that. The trouble is it's terribly hard for Americans to accept that there is not a short-term fix to Afghanistan … just as there isn't in Northern Ireland. This place should show Americans you are in it for the longer haul," Sedney said. -- Referring to the breakdown of peace talks between the Afghan government and elements of the Taliban held in Doha, Sedney said the next round of possible discussions should be chaired by a neutral non-Afghan figure. -- "I think it has to be an outsider whom the Afghans are able to agree on. Look at the success of George Mitchell here in Northern Ireland, who was respected by all sides. Obviously in the Afghan context it cannot be an American like Mitchell, and the United States certainly can't impose a solution but there is room for a neutral chairman if talks start again," he said. -- Mitchell – the former leader of the Democrats in the US Senate – was appointed to chair the talks that led to the 1998 Good Friday agreement. He remained on call for the next three years to hold the ring in further negotiations between unionists and nationalists over unsolved issues like IRA disarmament. -- His "Mitchell principles" became the six ground rules of the negotiations leading to the Good Friday deal and committed all the parties around the table including the IRA-allied Sinn Féin to sign up to work for change solely through peaceful means. --- On a continued foreign military presence in Afghanistan following the elections and the departure of President Obama from office, Sedney said: "In order to train and to mentor the Afghan security forces in areas like intelligence for example, you still need a force of around 15,000-plus of foreign forces. -- "This means around 10,000 Americans and 5,000 Nato troops. If you go lower you only get a foreign force that can just about defend itself. There would not be enough numbers to be working with the Afghan forces and playing a positive role." -- Sedney was the guest of Michael Semple, a visiting professor at the Queen's University Belfast conflict study centre and who served as deputy to the UN special representative for Afghanistan in 2004-2007. Semple, who had lived in the region for more than 20 years, was expelled from Afghanistan for holding secret talks with elements of the Taliban aimed at persuading them to take part in peace negotiations. - More, Henry McDonald, Guardian -


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