Holbrooke and Miliband preview strategy for Stabilization in Afghanistan

Today, world leaders will meet in London for the International Conference on Afghanistan to discuss its progress since the Petersburg Accord from 2001, which laid the foundation for democracy in the country after the expulsion of the Taliban.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, representatives from many of the 43 nations involved in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and other international organizations will meet to form a unified strategy in surmounting the political, security, and economic obstacles that plague Afghanistan.

Miliband and Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke testified at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing January 21 regarding goals of the conference. Miliband and Holbrooke expressed the hope that this conference will signify a shift in responsibility of the country’s stability to the Afghan government.

“If conditions are right, we expect that the London Conference will be followed by an international conference in Kabul later this year to present the Afghan government’s commitments to the people of Afghanistan,” said Holbrooke.

Miliband said the conference comes at a “decisive moment” in the Afghan campaign where civilian and military strategies need to merge. He pointed out that Afghans said in a BBC and ABC poll that people don’t want to go back to Taliban misrule, but they had very high levels of dissatisfaction with the current government.

“They must avoid being outgunned and out-governed by the insurgency,” he said.

In his statement, Miliband said the London conference would focus on three main areas: security, governance and development, and regional relations. Security will encompass the role of Afghan police forces and how they will evolve over time. The conference will also discuss how to support Afghan reintegration efforts from those who disapprove of the government or joined the Taliban.

President Karzai also announced in Turkey this week that he would send a message of reconciliation to those Taliban who are not part of terrorist networks in efforts to unify the country and win hearts and minds. The strategy, he argued, can’t stop at police training, but must extend to the people’s interests.

This message comes almost two months after President Obama’s announcement on December 1 that 30,000 more troops need to be deployed to help solidify security. Obama said it was in our “vital national interest” to send additional troops because as it stands, the status quo is “unsustainable” due to the Taliban’s increased momentum and inadequate security that has lead to attacks against civilians.

Holbrooke discussed the significance of countering the insurgency by tacking the influx of information coming from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The Taliban currently uses radio, television, graphic images, phone calls, distributed CDs, and intimidation to spread their message.

Holbrooke and his team have created a presence inside the Embassy that specializes in communication-related issues “focused on what it takes in those countries to counter the pernicious influence of enemy propaganda,” he said.

Although the media landscape in areas like Pakistan are vibrant, U.S. media has difficulty getting on popular airwaves due to government restriction. The Foreign Relations Committee urged Holbrooke to work with the Pakistani government to open broadcasting from U.S. sources.

Vikram Singh, a senior defense advisor and head of the Information and Communication Cell to Ambassador Holbrooke, said measures have already been taken to heighten communication from non-Taliban sources. They’ve supported programming and content meaningful to people in the hard-to-reach areas who often don’t hear international media.

The team has also recruited former CNN correspondent David Ensor to coordinate the program and will be working with the Broadcasters Board of Governors who also head Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Sen. John Kerry said the London Conference is a real opportunity for the international community to commit itself to a coherent civilian strategy, which includes communication, and to unify purposes

“No purely military strategy in Afghanistan will succeed. The military is only one component in defeating an insurgency,” said Sen. Kerry. “We need to empower Afghans to take control of their future.”

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