UN envoy home for needed 'R&R'

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Kai Eide, the Norwegian diplomat who’s the United Nations’ special envoy to Afghanistan, says he’s never experienced such an exhausting period as the past few months in his entire career. Eide is spending a few days at home in Norway this week for some rest and relaxation, but that didn’t stop him from meeting with officials and the press at the Foreign Ministry in Oslo.

Eide (photo) , has a long diplomatic career behind him, including posts as Norway’s ambassador to NATO and the UN’s special envoy both to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Nothing matched the pressure he’s been under in Kabul. He’s had to oversee an extremely difficult and controversial presidential election in Afghanistan, got into a heated conflict with his deputy Peter Galbraith and was confronted with a terrorist attack on a UN guest house that left five of his colleagues dead.

“That was a very hard hit on us,” he told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday. “For a UN official, it’s a nightmare. When you experience such an attack on your own people, of course it’s your first priority.”Politics is important, but this was more important.”

The attack prompted the UN to withdraw 600 foreign workers from Kabul while Eide oversees security improvements. And all this has happened after a contested presidential election and what Eide calls “a deep lack of loyalty” from his former deputy Galbraith. Then came a conflict with Afghanistan’s foreign ministry, which sharply criticized Eide after he demanded a reduction in the corruption believed to permeate the Afghan government.

“Pressure comes from a variety of angles and of course it makes the job even more difficult,” Eide said.

He noted that “you try to mobilize your energy every morning, you never have a day off.” After nearly three months like that, it was time to head for Oslo for a few days.

Eide, age 60, met with Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre on Monday, to brief him on the situation in Afghanistan, but mostly looked forward to some time with his family. He’s married to Gro Holm, a long-time journalist and foreign correspondent for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). They have two daughters.

How long does Eide think he can maintain the energy required to be in Kabul?

“Until I can’t,” he told Aftenposten with a laugh. “Only my wife and I have any sort of idea about how long I’ll stay in this job.”

He said much will depend, though, on the degree of cooperation he gets from the Afghan government and to what degree he feels he can contribute. As to when he feels he’s done all he can, he said: “I’m not there yet.”