Ex-UN envoy stirs Afghan debate

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UPDATED: Kai Eide, the Norwegian diplomat who until recently served as the United Nations’ top envoy in Kabul, has revealed a new bitterness over how Afghanistan and its war against the Taliban is being run. He wants to stir debate on Afghanistan, and has unleashed harsh criticism of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, American officials playing key roles in the country, and the US’ and NATO’s strategy.

Kai Eide, the former head of the UN's Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, is unleashing a barrage of criticism about the situation in the war-torn country. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Eide was making the rounds of Norwegian media outlets this week, in connection with the release of his new book on Afghanistan. While he claims he’s tried to give a balanced view of Karzai and the job he’s doing, he describes the Afghan president as unpredictable and given to explosive outbursts. He can also be suspicious and conspiratorial, according to Eide.

Nor, he says, does Karzai have the ideas or vision needed for a country like Afghanistan, which has been torn apart for decades by various warring factions. Eide believes Karzai has only limited interest in economic matters or the need to build up new institutions that could stabilize the country.

“He’s had a lot of years (to do the work), but hasn’t used them to develop the country’s own society,” Eide told Norwegian news bureau NTB. He thinks Karzai lacks the broad power base needed within the Afghan community, “so he buys himself legitimacy and support through fragile and changing alliances.”

Eide told newspaper Aftenposten that Karzai may seem like a western politician but he isn’t, rather he’s the product of a father who was a tribal leader. Karzai now seems more interested, according to Eide, “in retaining power than using it.”

Harsh words about Holbrooke
Eide also attacks US and NATO officials in his book, especially the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke and US diplomat Peter Galbraith, with whom Eide had a high-profile feud. Eide likens Holbrooke to the proverbial bull in a china shop, “a man of high intellect, but completely unable to listen.”

Eide told Aftenposten that instead of being supported by the US envoy in his UN role, he felt Holbrooke and Galbraith tried to undermine his efforts. “I feel bitterness towards those two,” Eide said, adding, however, that his own feelings of inadequacy in Afghanistan “had nothing to do with them.”

Eide also thinks the US-led NATO strategy is characterized by western military thinking and doomed to fail. He admitted that he was completely exhausted, both physically and mentally, when his two-year term in Afghanistan came to an end.

Need to focus on national goals
Eide, who also had his detractors in Afghanistan, believes the key to peace in Afghanistan is “unconditional negotiations with the Taliban,” stressing, however, that “sitting down to unconditional negotiations doesn’t mean accepting a solution without conditions.”

He calls for political leadership that would focus on national goals for Afghanistan, along with a build-up of Afghan institutions and increased and better-coordinated foreign aid. He estimates that 40 percent of aid now extended to Afghanistan goes back to the donors themselves, through high salaries for aid-financed advisers.

Eide, a career diplomat with experience in the Balkans who has served as Norway’s ambassador to NATO, was the target of a call for his own resignation just last fall. The International Crisis Group, an independent and well-regarded organization, concluded that Eide has “lost face” within his own staff and Afghan society after last year’s elections revealed widespread fraud. Karzai held on to power nonetheless, making it seem that Eide and the international community weren’t able to battle corruption.

The 61-year-old Eide also suffered from the widely publicized power struggle with Galbraith, who was replaced. Galbraith, however, also has questioned Karzai’s qualifications and even the Afghan president’s mental stability.

Eide ended up resigning when his term was up, earlier this year. He told Aftenposten he since has spent most of his time at home and out in the forests around Oslo, trying to recover from his rough duty in Afghanistan and has few ambitions. He’s now attached to the peace research institute PRIO in Oslo as an investigator.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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