The Cable

Can Japan bring peace to Afghanistan?

As far as we know, the U.S. government isn't focused on engaging the Taliban or other militants waging war on the Afghan government and international forces, but there is one country actively working on a plan to reconcile the warring factions in Afghanistan: Japan.

A conference held behind closed doors in Tokyo finished the last of its three days of meetings Wednesday, bringing together representatives of the governments of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and others to discuss how a peace within Afghanistan might be negotiated. Among the participants was Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, an advisor on reconciliation to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Stanekzai has often advocated for internal Afghan reconciliation and in his capacity as a visiting fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace last year, he wrote that "A multitude of factors suggest that the time is ripe for a reconciliatory process," and "A comprehensive and coordinated political reconciliation process must be started."

The conference ended with a list of recommendations, obtained by The Cable, that will now be sent to Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada as he charts out Japan's future policy on Afghanistan.

The Japanese government, now led by the Democratic Party of Japan, has been searching for a new role in Afghanistan after announcing it would end its military refueling mission there but also increase its aid contribution by $5 billion.

Leading an international effort to negotiate a détente between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government could be how the DPJ forges a new identity for Japan's foreign policy, which has long been tethered to U.S. foreign policy. The DPJ has called for a more independent position in the Japanese alliance with Washington.

"Since Japan enjoys an excellent reputation with Afghanistan and the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan, it is highly desirable that Japan play a key role within the international community in supporting the peace and reintegration program led by the Afghan government," the recommendations state.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set out the conditions under which she believes reconciliation with certain members of the Taliban could be achieved.

"We understand that not all those who fight with the Taliban support al-Qaida, or believe in the extremist policies the Taliban pursued when in power," she said at the Council of Foreign Relations on July 15, "And today we and our Afghan allies stand ready to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban who renounces al-Qaida, lays down their arms, and is willing to participate in the free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan Constitution."

But Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said Nov. 23 that "there has been no direct meetings between American officials and Taliban officials ... we are not having direct contacts with the Taliban."

The conference was organized by World Conference of Religions for Peace Japan committee and was arranged with help of the group Japanese Parliamentarians for Shared Security and with cooperation of the Japanese foreign ministry.

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