TORONTO, Feb 26 (IPS) - As Canada's parliament debates whether to extend the country's mission in Afghanistan beyond next year's withdrawal deadline, some peace advocates and conflict resolution experts say a U.N.-led mission is the best bet to negotiate a peace settlement involving all of the major parties in the ongoing civil war.
Walter Dorn, a Canadian professor who has been a training advisor for the U.N. department of peacekeeping operations, told IPS that with more than 100,000 peacekeepers in the field, including military and civilian personnel in 17 missions around the world, the U.N. has had an excellent record in building the peace in a variety of countries, including Sierra Leone, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and El Salvador.
An instructor at the Canadian Forces College in suburban Toronto and author of the forthcoming "Global Peace Operations 2008", Dorn said that a U.N.-hosted force in southern Afghanistan could be deployed to provide security during a period of negotiations for a peace settlement. Such a force should, he said, include troops from Muslim countries so as to make the mission less of "a [U.S. President] George Bush-initiated operation that looks to locals like an invasion."
"I find it a curious thing that there is such silence in the Manley report on the question of
reconciliation," said Ernie Regehr, a senior adviser at Project Ploughshares. He and a number of others who offered insights into the panel can't fathom why the idea of negotiations with insurgents — beyond Afghan President Hamid Karzai's few initiatives — has so little traction.
"When the panel does mention reconciliation, what they are really promoting is a kind of amnesty, discussions with those elements in the Taliban that reject violence," he said. "But that is not a serious attempt to deal with people who have genuine grievances against the current order."
The fact is, Regehr said, one of the things that makes Taliban recruitment in the south possible is that "there is not a social stigma against joining the rebels, because the feeling is that the government is not theirs in any event."
He and his colleagues say the people governing Afghanistan largely represent the Northern Alliance, one side in the ongoing Afghan civil war that was installed in Kabul after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 — thus leaving a major Pashtun-speaking political force in the south out in the cold. The Afghan resistance will remain entrenched, Regehr and others believe, as long as the mission remains the wrong one, in the wrong hands.
His other point is that the NATO-led mission is not a true U.N. mission, although it has received the sanction of the international body. What's needed, Regehr and others argue, is a "multi-dimensional" United Nations-led peace process of mediation, reconciliation and political dialogue, a reliance on local institutions and customs and the negotiated disarmament of armed factions.
"This is the opposite of where we should be going," Mason responded. "NATO cannot do this. NATO commanders who really understand know that the answer is to get NATO back into the U.N. blue helmet game because an integrated mission is the only way you can get the military strategy subordinated to the political one."
RLCC: Blessed are the peacemakers.