Historic Belgium Treaty Could Save Afghanistan

World leaders and NATO allies at the 2016 Warsaw Summit can pledge their "long-term commitment to Afghanistan through the Enduring Partnership," but it won't change a thing.

Afghanistan will remain a failed state unless those allies heed the advice of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In his latest book, World Order, Kissinger wrote: "A major diplomatic effort is needed to define a regional order to deal with the possible reemergence of Afghanistan as a jihadist center. In the nineteenth century, the major powers guaranteed Belgian neutrality, a guarantee that ... lasted nearly one hundred years. Is an equivalent ... possible? If such a concept - or a comparable one - is evaded, Afghanistan is likely to drag the rest of the world back into its perennial warfare."

Stated simply, if Afghanistan were granted a Belgian-type neutrality, it could - with the help of major powers, as Dr. Kissinger says - rid itself of the Taliban, Haqqani, Al-Qaeda and other extremist cancers. The aim would be to produce a peaceful, self-governing and self-sustaining Afghanistan.

NATO commitments have been crucial in helping protect Afghanistan from becoming a sanctuary for Islamic extremists and drug traffickers. International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) deployed in Afghanistan since 2001 have kept the pro-Western Afghan government in power by keeping the pro-Pakistan Taliban at bay, but they have failed to vanquish the insurgency.

Since 2001, thousands of U.S. and allied forces have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan and billions of dollars have been spent in the conflict, yet the situation continues to worsen.

An "Enduring Partnership" policy to stay the course won't work. It will not only damage NATO's image as a guardian of freedom and order, it will prolong the suffering of Afghans who see no progress toward sustainable peace.

For NATO to succeed, it has to come up with a new strategy where the regional powers stop using Afghanistan as their proxy battlefield and agree on a treaty of non-interference in Afghan affairs.

Let us use the lesson of Belgian history as a model.

From the end of the Middle Ages until the 16th century, the area now known as Belgium was a prosperous and cosmopolitan center of commerce and culture. But from the 16th century until the Belgian Revolution in 1830, the area served as the battleground between European powers, causing it to be dubbed the "Battlefield of Europe."

Under the 1839 Treaty of London, European powers guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium, a pact that remains honored to this day.

For most of its history, Afghanistan has been the pre-treaty Belgium of the Middle East - a battlefield for outsiders, including Mongols, Greeks, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British Empire and others.

Today Afghanistan has become the war-torn chess board of powers such as Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran, each trying to influence or counter-influence their rivals, using proxies to destabilize the pro-Western Afghan government.

In his book World Order, Dr. Kissinger observed that Iran, Russia, India and China want to keep their influence in de facto partitions of Afghanistan, while Pakistan wants to maintain influence over the Pashtun-dominated south.

Iran and Russia are reportedly supporting the Sunni Taliban to block the ISIS influence from reaching their borders. Pakistan, envious of rival India's influence in Afghanistan, will support any group willing to take up arms against the Afghan government.

Despite receiving billions of dollars in U.S. aid, Afghanistan is a failed state. The bulk of its resources are poured into a massive defense and security force, yet insurgents still control a third of the countryside. Afghanistan pushes for still more military assistance and air power, but is that really a path to peace?

It is not. Afghanistan cannot afford its own bloated army.

Keeping a delicate balance between India and Pakistan is one key to peace for Afghanistan, but Afghanistan cannot control that, so its only hope lies in a regional, multilateral treaty - an agreement like the one that guaranteed neutrality for Belgium in 1839.

Afghanistan should call on the United Nations to invite Iran, China, Russia, India and Pakistan to sign a treaty granting Afghanistan's sovereignty, with a binding commitment that they will not interfere in Afghanistan's domestic affairs.

In exchange, Afghanistan disarms by limiting its security forces to a couple thousand police and security officers. The U.S. would be motivated to throw its weight behind such a treaty because it would give the Americans a clean and easy exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan would not pose a threat to anyone in the region. Its force of "a few good fighting men" would be more productive than hundreds of thousands of "men unwilling to fight."

Everybody wins, but the major beneficiaries would be Afghan neighbors. A stable, non-jihadist Afghanistan would eliminate the risks posed to Iran, Pakistan and Russia.

Alas, the NATO Summit and similar talks comprise a road to nowhere unless they produce a Belgium-type neutrality pact. The communists, Taliban, and Mujahedeen regimes all failed due to rivalries between regional powers. "Staying the course" would be fruitless.

Afghanistan arguably is in worse shape now that it was when the ISAF forces arrived to take out the Taliban 15 years ago. If NATO keeps giving us more talk and no enforceable neutrality pact, we have to assume that 15 years from now, Afghanistan would be lucky to exist at all.