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.

The Cable

No tough questions for Galbraith on Capitol Hill

When Peter Galbraith testified on Capitol Hill Monday, the former U.S. ambassador and U.N. envoy answered questions on the credibility of Hamid Karzai, the elections in Afghanistan, the U.S. mission there, troop levels, and a host of other issues.

What lawmakers failed to bring up were the allegations that Galbraith, an advisor to Kurdish Regional Government in the aftermath of the invasion, abused his position to advocate for policies that would benefit companies in which he had a huge financial interest.

Perhaps the cozy atmosphere was to be expected, for the globe-trotting diplomat was returning to friendly territory: Galbraith is a consummate Capitol Hill veteran and insider. He was a professional staff member for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1979 to 1993.

Galbraith reportedly stands to make upwards of $100 million from stakes in Kurdish oil fields he secured while he was an advisor to the Kurdish regional government. Galbraith has admitted he helped secure contracts for the Norwegian company DNO at the same time he was advising the Kurds on the formation of the Iraqi constitution, which granted significant control of new oil fields to the Kurdish government.

When one of those fields, named Tawke, struck riches in 2005, Galbraith's stake became hugely valuable. His push for more Kurdish autonomy had contributed to a massive personal financial windfall. During the same time period, Galbraith was also an advisor senior U.S. lawmakers such as then-Sen. Joseph Biden, D-DE, who also advocated for increased federalism and regional autonomy in Iraq.

"What is true is that I undertook business activities that were entirely consistent with my long-held policy views," Galbraith told The New York Times. "I believe my work with DNO (and other companies) helped create the Kurdistan oil industry which helps provide Kurdistan an economic base for the autonomy its people almost unanimously desire."

"So, while I may have had interests, I see no conflict."

But none of that came up in Galbraith's testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, chaired by John Tierney, D-MA. That subcommittee has a reputation for taking on thorny oversight issues the House Armed Services Committee shies away from, and Tierney is not known to pull his punches.

But Tierney stuck to the hearing's title, which focused on the Afghan elections, and Galbraith wasted no time in repeating his harsh criticisms of Karzai, the Afghan government, the U.N. mission in Kabul, and his former boss at the U.N. mission, Kai Eide.

Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon fired Galbraith from his post as the number two U.N. official in Afghanistan after he had a falling out with Eide, formerly a close personal friend, over the U.N.'s role in the disputed August presidential election.

The blame for the current situation in Afghanistan falls to both Karzai and Eide, Galbraith explained. He warned against sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as Obama is expected to announce next week.

"It's clear that a fraud-tainted Karzai government, considered illegitimate by a large part of the country, cannot fulfill the role of a reliable partner. And thus, we're in the situation that although the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in 2009, as it has every year since 2004, in my view sending additional troops is no answer," Galbraith testified. "Without a credible Afghan partner, they cannot accomplish their mission and sending them is, therefore, a poor use of a valuable resource."

Galbraith also called Eide "a terrible manager" and said that Western staff is now fleeing the office of the U.N. mission in Kabul after being demoralized by the U.N.'s lack of action related to monitoring and dealing with the election fraud.

"Kai Eide, the head of the mission, knew [the Independent Electoral Commission] wasn't independent; nonetheless, he chose not to act and as a result, more than 200 million of American taxpayer dollars were wasted, and of course, it has cost lives because the military mission has become much more complicated," Galbraith said.

 

UPDATE: Galbraith disputed the reporting in the New York Times article in a letter to the editors of Vermont's Rutland Herald, which in part reads:

At the time the Iraqi Constitution was negotiated in 2005, I was a private citizen with no connection whatsoever with the U.S. government. In short, I was in no position to push through anything. At the request of Kurdistan's leaders, I did offer them advice on how to negotiate best to achieve their goals. But I never participated in any negotiations and was never in the room when they took place.

The Kurds put forward their proposals for the Iraqi Constitution on Feb. 11, 2004, proposals that included Kurdistan control over oil on its own territory. At that time, I had no relationship with DNO, and DNO had no involvement in Iraq. When Kurdistan's leaders asked for my advice 18 months later (which I provided informally and on an unpaid basis), they knew I was being paid by DNO. They saw no conflict of interest for obvious reason that Kurdistan's goal of controlling its own oil was completely congruent with the economic interests of companies that the Kurds brought into the region.