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Assessing the Bonn Accords


December 5 marked the fifth anniversary of the Bonn Accords, the U.N.-brokered agreement that laid out a road map for political development in postwar Afghanistan.

After representatives of various Afghan factions signed a landmark agreement on December fifth, 2001, U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi proclaimed the promise that the Bonn Accords held for the battered and bruised nation of Afghanistan.

“The United Nations and the entire international community feels a tremendous sense of hope in the knowledge that an agreement has been reached here in Bonn that provides an opportunity to end the conflict that has plagued Afghanistan for two decades,” said Brahimi.

The Bonn Accords

The agreement set down specific steps, such as elections and adoption of a constitution, that Afghanistan would take, with international help. The conference came about after an opposition coalition known as the Northern Alliance, backed by the United States, toppled the government of the Taleban. Said Tayeb Jawad, now Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, says that created a vacuum that had to be filled, and filled quickly.

”The Bonn Conference took place in a state of emergency, both for Afghans and the international community, where there was a need to set up a political system and a political process with the participation of Afghans and the international community. But I think that the Bonn process has been probably one of the most complete and successful processes set forth in a post-conflict setting,” says Jawad.

Barnett Rubin, who was an advisor to Lakhdar Brahimi at the conference, says the United States, which spearheaded the effort to oust the Taleban, turned to the United Nations for help.

“It turned to the U.N. without any clear ideas about what it wanted, which actually was an advantage. So the U.N. based this process on the work it had been doing for many years with different Afghan factions about setting up a transitional government, and very hurriedly put together … based on that: just put together a transitional government and set forth a process through which it would gradually increase its legitimacy and capacity,” says Rubin.

Internal Diversons

But getting the Afghans to agree on a government was a daunting task. The Northern Alliance, made up mostly of minority ethnic groups like Tajiks and Uzbeks, had already seized most of the urban centers. They felt they had won the war and wanted most of the power. They squabbled with Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, over the presidency and the key ministries.

James Dobbins, who was the U.S. special envoy and represented Washington at the Bonn Conference, says it was the Iranian delegation that broke the deadlock.

“As it was about to conclude, we still had a significant disagreement about the distribution of ministries, with the Northern Alliance insisting on a much larger number than any of the groups thought was reasonable," says Dobbins. "And it was at the last minute that the Iranians intervened, took the Northern Alliance delegate aside and persuaded him to moderate his demands and give up two further ministries to the other factions, which was the final breakthrough that allowed the conference to conclude on schedule.”

New Proposals

Dobbins says it was also the Iranians who noticed a gaping hole in the draft accord. “Early on it was Iranian delegate who first suggested that the Bonn Agreement really ought to contain some mention of democracy, which the first draft had neglected to include. And this was of course before the Bush Administration had discovered democratization as the key to reforming the greater Middle East. And I had no instructions [from Washington] on the subject, but it seemed a reasonable proposal to me and I supported it,” says Dobbins.

In the end, the road map in the Bonn Accords was smooth in some places, but took some unexpected twists and turns in others that caused the framers to create a successor agreement earlier this year, called the "Afghanistan Compact".

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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