NATO chief sees role for Iran in Afghanistan

January 27th, 2009 - 6:57 am ICT by IANS  

TalibanBrussels, Jan 27 (Xinhua) NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said that all Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Iran, must be engaged if the West wants to succeed in the war-torn country.”To my mind, we need a discussion that brings in all the relevant regional players; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, and yes, Iran. We need a pragmatic approach to solve this very real challenge,” he told at a security seminar here Monday.

He said a more regional approach must be pursued. “We need to stop looking at Afghanistan as if it were an island. Afghanistan’s problems cannot be solved by or within Afghanistan alone, because they are not Afghanistan’s problems alone,” he said.

De Hoop Scheffer argued that there is a regional network of extremists, including the Taliban and Al Qaeda and many others, and that there is a transnational narcotics problem as well.

But he admitted that he does not know how exactly the West would engage Iran. “I’m not sure at this stage what form that would take,” he said, but stressed that the notion itself is already something.

Iran is an important neighbour of Afghanistan and has great influence on Afghanistan both culturally and economically. But regional heavyweights such as Iran, India and China have not been much engaged.

De Hoop Scheffer again asked the European NATO allies to step up their contributions to Afghanistan to match US pledges to send in more troops.

He asked the European allies to come up with either more forces, or at least civilian assistance. “For the political balance and for sustainability of this mission, this has to be a true team effort,” he said.

He also called for overcoming the compartmentalisation of international efforts in Afghanistan. “Our international efforts are still too much of a patchwork, militarily, politically and in terms of development assistance. We need to bring these walls down.”

NATO is leading a 55,000-strong International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. But the troops are not enough to curb the increasingly bold insurgency.

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