THE BLOG
20/10/2011 20:03 BST | Updated 20/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Questions asked ahead of Afghanistan forums

The BBC has been talking to Afghan audiences for more than 30 years now, through wars, destruction and despair - and through hopes for peace that have survived every mayhem. Today, as perhaps never before, these hopes are as apprehensive in Afghanistan as they are justified.

Ahead of two major international forums on the future of Afghanistan - the international regional conference in Istanbul on 2 November and the international conference in Bonn on 5 December 2011 - one of the predominant subjects of the public discourse in Afghanistan is why peace talks have failed to date. In the new series of discussions on the future of Afghanistan, the BBC's Afghan service poses the question differently, asking, what kind of talks does Afghanistan need and with whom? What roles do the government, the insurgents and the international community are to play in these talks?

Debating these issues with some of the leading experts on Afghanistan, the BBC is hoping to engage with Pashto- and Dari-speaking audiences as Afghans seek ways to end the decade-long conflict and to achieve the long-awaited peace.

The BBC has been talking to Afghan audiences for more than 30 years now, through wars, destruction and despair - and through hopes for peace that have survived every mayhem. Today, as perhaps never before, these hopes are as apprehensive in Afghanistan as they are justified.

Ten years, which passed since internationally supported government was installed in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, haven't brought peace any closer. The number of the US troops surged to almost 100,000 in 2010 with a total of 140,000 international troops, and recently president Obama announced his plans to withdraw around 30,000 US troops by 2013.

The assumption is that the coalition-trained Afghan army would be able to take full responsibility for the country's security by the end of 2014 - with tens of thousands of US troops remaining in the country as a guarantee for stability against any major internal and external threats. 2011 may be critical for Afghanistan as the country strives to achieve a national consensus on a strategic treaty with the US - a treaty which can entail such a long-term presence of US forces in Afghanistan.

Talking to Afghans every day as we cover the events and trends in the country, we can see that they believe peace would only come if their neighbours genuinely and sincerely help. The Afghan government is now blaming a particular neighbour to the east, Pakistan. The Istanbul Conference, hosted by Turkey and championed by Afghanistan, should help build a common regional vision for peace and stability.

Over the past 10 years, Afghanistan has undertaken numerous initiatives to promote regional cooperation, mainly focusing on trade and economic activities. However, Afghans must have learned by now that, unless they boldly address their political differences, the deficit of trust and confidence that divides the region, regional cooperation will remain an aspiration.

The other top gathering on Afghanistan, in Bonn, will bring together more than a thousand delegates from 90 nations, international organisations and the United Nations. Chaired by Afghanistan, the Bonn conference is expected to be an excellent opportunity for Afghans to brief their international partners about the major accomplishments of the past 10 years and, in particular, about the progress of the transition and reconciliation processes.

Most importantly, at Bonn, the Afghans will call on the international community to stay committed to assisting Afghanistan in the post-2014 period, after the handover of all security responsibilities to the Afghan forces. To this end, Afghans will have to share their vision for the next 10 years - the vision of developing Afghanistan into a stable country, a functioning democracy, and a prospering economy, a country which president Hamid Karzai wants to see "at the centre of an emerging 'new silk road'", "a regional hub for trade and transit."

But before these exciting horizons even start to come closer, the Istanbul and Bonn conferences could help create a framework for the withdrawal process and bring more stability to Afghanistan. And it has to be seen whether both these forums turn out to be empty talking shops or, as many fear, quick political fixes to provide cover for a hasty US retreat - and falling short of an inclusive deal involving all major interests necessary for a lasting peace.

As Afghanistan is preparing for two key international forums, the BBC's special series of debates and panel discussions will seek answers to the pressing questions of national consensus, good governance - and peace.