Since the outcome of this arrangement would be conditional to the role and conduct of Afghanistan’s contiguous neighbours, namely: Pakistan, Iran and China, they will have to agree to a policy of non-intervention. United Kingdom, Germany, Israel and India will also have to cease their covert operations and leave Afghanistan alone.

For the US it will be prudent to gradually withdraw from this imbroglio leaving it to the UN Security Council to negotiate and implement such an arrangement. Under a mandate of the UN SC an ‘Afghanistan Group of 7′, comprising five permanent members plus Pakistan and Iran should be created and tasked to oversee the gradual withdrawal of foreign troops to be replaced by a UN peacekeeping force. It should also supervise political reintegration and reform and the reconstruction effort.

The Group should also lay down and implement the principles of Afghanistan’s neutrality and international obligations to eliminate terrorism and deal and diffuse any situations that may arise from time to time. The Belgian neutrality model created in the 19th century could perhaps be followed.

While this option is worked out, some important regional issues will need attention.

Pakistan being central to any solution of the Afghanistan issue, its geopolitical sensitivities cannot be ignored. Increasing Indian engagement in Afghanistan that Pakistan deems hostile to its security will force Pakistan to rely on Taliban support to neutralise Indian threat. This necessitates international pressure to be brought upon India to accept the peace accord that Pakistan is agreeable to and that would resolve contentious issues like Kashmir, moving them both towards peaceful coexistence.

Iran must also be brought into the mix. Although Iran has been helpful in Afghanistan in the past, current tensions between the US and Iran will likely cause it to refrain from throwing its weight behind a multilateral arrangement. Engagement of Iran will have to be given serious attention and Israel will have to be kept on a tight leash.

Similarly, Russian apprehensions about American intentions to marginalise it by gaining control over energy resources of Central Asia using Afghanistan as a conduit will have to be allayed too.

Russia, India and Iran will also have to be brought on board to accept US-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia supported Taliban dominated government, owing to their past association with the Northern Alliance.

And above all, American support to the biggest perpetrator of state terrorism – Israel, which in turn has fuelled terrorism around the world, will have to be rationalised.

If indeed Al Qaeda did cause 9/11 to happen, it is time for Obama to acknowledge its causes and address them.

This article was first published in the Pakistan daily Dawn on April 25, 2009.