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As NATO withdraws, Afghanistan's neighbours make security pact

Participators pose for a group photo session during the Istanbul Conference for Afghanistan at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul on November 2, 2011.


More than a dozen countries in the volatile region around Afghanistan have reached a security agreement that emphasizes non-interference in the troubled country's affairs, in a diplomatic push to prevent proxy wars and state partition as NATO troops withdraw.

The Istanbul Protocol commits signatories to protect Afghanistan's "sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity," and promises co-operation on the dismantling of "terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens."

Such promises are less notable than the list of countries that pledged agreement, which reads like a "who's who" of potential rivals if Afghanistan descends further into civil wars backed by outsiders.

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Delegations that adopted the protocol, at an ornate hall on the waterfront in Istanbul, include Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Copies of the agreement given to journalists did not include a signature from Uzbekistan, initially touted as a member of the regional group, but no Uzbek officials were available to comment.

"Afghanistan is not only the heart of Asia but also the heart of the whole world, because all of the international organizations are working together to a common end there," said Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. "So security and stability in Afghanistan will mean stability in the whole of the region."

The regional foreign ministers also agreed to meet again in June, 2012, in Kabul. Like other Western countries, Canada sent a delegation that "welcomed and supported" the agreement; Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, said this represents a positive trend toward Afghanistan's neighbours taking a greater share of the responsibility for the country.

"Canada has done its share, with heavy loss of life," Mr. Obhrai said.

The emphasis on regional solutions comes in part from Western plans to reduce the number of troops in the country, pulling out perhaps a quarter of the 130,000 soldiers by next year. This has raised concerns among Afghanistan's neighbours about the potential fallout: Iran's foreign minister gave a speech warning that the recent assassination of Afghan Peace Council chief Burhanuddin Rabbani represented part of a "conspiracy" to destabilize Afghanistan.

"Iran warns against every step that could bring Afghanistan to the edge of collapse or partition," said Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, according to a transcript of his speech.

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Afghan Foreign Affairs Minister Zalmai Rassoul, who co-chaired the event with his Turkish counterpart, said he was satisfied with the agreement but that the more difficult test would be its implementation.

"Regional co-operation is not only theory," Mr. Rassoul said. "Regional co-operation means working together for an environment that is free of terrorism, drugs, and organized crime."

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