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Thomas R. Pickering
Negotiating Afghanistan: When? With Whom? About What?

The Barack Obama administration's policy on Afghanistan negotiations differs from that of its predecessor in that it is open to greater debate of prospects and issues, and it senses that an effort at the proper time might have a useful and positive impact. In parallel with the efforts by former Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, a study was conducted under the leadership of former Algerian Foreign Minister and United Nations Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and co-chaired by the author of this article. This study, sponsored by the Century Foundation think tank, sought to answer these main questions about negotiations in Afghanistan: should negotiations be undertaken, and if so, when? What should be the scope of the problems to be resolved? How should the process be started, maintained, and concluded? Also examined were the questions of who should lead and participate, and how these delicate relationships among parties should be addressed. The study concluded that negotiations must be part of an overall U.S. strategy of stabilization for Afghanistan. Furthermore, U.S. leadership in the negotiation process is essential, with Pakistan and other regional neighbors as key participants. Getting negotiations started, which may be best accomplished with a facilitator, could be as difficult as keeping the process going and bringing it to a useful and successful conclusion. The central issue will be the future governance arrangements for Afghanistan. The time is ripe, the study found, for seeking to negotiate peace and stability in Afghanistan.

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