Monday, 7 November 2011

Istanbul conference - not a lot happened

Whatever happened at the Istanbul conference on 'Security and Cooperation in the heart of Asia' that promised so much and was billed as the precursor to the Bonn conference to be held next month?
Not a lot is the short answer. Most of Afghanistan's neighbours were unwilling to support American plans to establish permanent military bases in the country beyond 2014. Nor would they act as guarantors for a 'new regional mechanism' for peace in the country.  Host country Turkey, together with the USA, were forced to drop the original draft proposal to set up a contact group for monitoring a series of confidence-building measures, opting instead for a much more anodyne statement.
In the end this conference fell victim to American attempts to load it with a series of geopolitical manoeuvres that tried to sideline Russian and Chinese ambitions in Central Asia. This strategy was never going to work. In fact, in the long term it has probably strengthened the hand of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the only regional security mechanism the Russians and Chinese (and Pakistan) are willing to countenance. The chances of the Bonn conference in a few weeks time producing a diplomatic breakthrough - or even of the Taliban showing up - are receding by the day.

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