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Could Neutral Status Protect Afghanistan from Foreign Interference?

By Zia Nezam

Afghanistan, a non-aligned country, was a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Belgrade, the capital of the former country Yugoslavia in 1961. NAM comprises 125 member states. After the United Nations, NAM is the largest grouping of developing nations in the world. NAM members include Iran, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Saudi Arabia. In principle, NAM members do not want to be aligned with or against any major bloc. Founded during the Cold War, NAM members sought not to be aligned with the now-defunct Soviet Union or the United States of America. 

Permanent legal neutral status, however, is different from that of declaring one’s country non-aligned. Formal neutrality dates back to an older legal notion recognized and governed by international law.  A neutral country declares that it withholds itself from present and future acts of armed conflict. In addition, the neutral nation vows to not become a member of any military alliance.

The typical way countries are recognized as neutral is by means of an international treaty. Examples include Switzerland with the Treaty of Vienna signed in 1815, the Vatican with the Lateran Treaty signed 1929, Finland with a 1948 treaty, and  Austria with a 1955 treaty.  Likewise, various  other countries such as Mexico, Mongolia, Singapore, Moldova, and Rwanda have established their neutrality.

A neutral country is a sovereign, independent state, which to reiterate, refrains from siding in armed conflicts and demonstrates that it adheres to the codified principles of neutrality set forth in international law and accepts being bound by the terms and conditions of neutrality. Neutral states retain the right of self-defense and can maintain a military capability. Some neutral states even participate in peacekeeping operations of the United Nations. Almost all neutral states have earlier experienced war or foreign interference.

If Afghanistan were to become neutral via a treaty with relevant countries who would sign the treaty and guarantee its implementation, such diplomacy might lessen tensions and reduce interferences. For example, nations such as the United States can guarantee the implementation of this neutrality treaty. Afghanistan neutrality would signal, for instance, that Afghan soil would not be used for military adventures against regional partners, and as well, our neutrality would be a clear statement that Afghanistan would not intervene directly or indirectly in the internal affairs of  neighboring or other states.

 The neutrality status has been shown for generations to work quite well in other parts of the world. A neutral status for Afghanistan would seem to hold the possibility of greater peace in our difficult, problematic region.    

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