Afghanistan: NATO fights, Karzai talks

9 October 2007

Afghanistan: NATO fights, Karzai talks

It will not be NATO but the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who will decide whether, when and where talks will be held with the Taliban over how to bring an end to six years of war in the country, said NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer at today's meeting of the alliance's parliamentary assembly in Reykjavik. The assembly, in which SP Senate leader Tiny Kox and foreign affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel participate as part of the Netherlands' delegation, was debating the situation in Afghanistan, and the future of NATO.

Tiny KoxSenator Kox expressed his disagreement with De Hoop Scheffer's statement, saying that "It can surely not be the case that NATO is fighting on against the Taliban while President Karzai is seeking negotiations with them. NATO should also be concentrating on bringing the conflict to an end. I consider it dangerous that NATO repeatedly says that Afghanistan is a sort of litmus test for the alliance. Afghanistan isn't a laboratory and we shouldn't be treating it as one. That is dangerous for the inhabitants of the country but also for our soldiers there. NATO doesn't need to prove that it can fight, but that it can stop doing so. You can't just leave that to Karzai.”

Support for President Karzai's beginning peace negotiations from the delegation of guests from Afghanistan was marked. “It's time to seek reconciliation with them and allow them to take their place as part of the government," argued Afghan MP Khalid Pashtoon, who also wants to see more pressure put on Pakistan, where, he said "the leadership of the Taliban and Al Qaida is after all to be found.”

De Hoop Scheffer repeated his position that NATO could do nothing without the support of the people. “Without the hearts and minds of the citizens it means nothing. Nothing without the citizens of Afghanistan but equally nothing without the citizens of the member states.” He argued for more public diplomacy, in order better to explain to citizens what NATO wants and what it does.

Senator Kox replied that he was greatly in favour of the broad public and parliamentary debate, especially on the alliance's new strategic concept, that NATO claimed to be seeking. He invited host country Iceland's Premier Geir Haarde to set an example, referring to the island's long tradition of heated debate over NATO membership and NATO operations. “'Iceland out of NATO' was always a popular chant here," the SP Senator reminded the right-wing Prime Minister, noting the longstanding resistance of the left to NATO membership and to the American military base at Kevlavik. The base was at last vacated last year, to the government's annoyance and the great joy of the anti-war movement.

The assembly also discussed the US plan to install a rocket shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Kox spoke against a resolution calling for the integration of the American plan into an all-embracing NATO plan. "We must not reward but resolutely reject the United States' dangerous unilateral steps, steps which could lead to a new arms race," he said, criticising the way in which many members of the assembly cast their votes. "How can it be that though there is here almost an eastern European majority, you are saying yes to a US and NATO rocket shield, while in Europe very many governments, very many social democratic parties, all left parties such as my own, the government of Russia and the inhabitants of Poland and the Czech republic have enormous problems with these plans?"

Earlier in the meeting the various committees of the NATO assembly discussed a range of issues, including the strained relations between NATO and the European Union on the one hand, and NATO and Russia on the other. In addition, a 'balance-sheet' was drawn up regarding the six-year long 'war on terrorism'. SP Member of Parliament Harry Van Bommel, who is also a member of the Netherlands' delegation, said that he found it very strange that the question of just where this struggle had got us had not been answered. “And just what the roots of terrorist movements are and how we can prevent terrorism have also not been gone into. So there isn't much on the plus side of the balance sheet,” he said. For his part, Van Bommel argued for a more preventative approach to terrorist threats. “If we do more about the causes, we will have fewer problems with the results," he said.

In the spring of 2008 the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will meet in Berlin to discuss, amongst other things, the results of the forthcoming NATO summit in Bucharest. If Jaap De Hoop Scheffer gets his wish, the gathering in the Romanian capital will see a start made on the drafting of a 'new strategic concept'. A tangible result will then be ready for 2009, a significant date for both NATO as a whole, which will be 60 years old, and De Hoop Scheffer, whose term of office ends in that year. “While the Secretary General is speaking to the member states," commented Senator Kox, "the member states should be talking and listening to their citizens. We are calling on the Dutch government to make clear that its position will be determined by the opinions of our country's citizens and their representatives in parliament. Because, as Mr De Hoop Scheffer correctly states, without the support of the people NATO has no future.”

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