Global Policy Forum

UN Mission Chief Warns Afghanistan's Allies


By Kirk Semple

International Herald Tribune
December 8, 2008

In unusually blunt remarks, the chief of the UN mission in Afghanistan warned in an interview last weekend that unless Afghanistan's international partners conducted their military operations with more care and cultural sensitivity, redoubled their work to minimize civilian casualties and accelerated their reconstruction programs, they risked jeopardizing their efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country.

Kai Eide, the UN special representative for Afghanistan, also came to the defense of the embattled president, Hamid Karzai, saying that Karzai's harsh public criticism of his foreign allies on both the military and development fronts had been authentic, not to mention an accurate reflection of widespread and growing frustration among Afghans. Some foreign diplomats have dismissed Karzai's recent remarks as a cynical effort to curry favor with Afghan voters during the prelude to national elections, Eide said. "Listen to the concerns of the Afghan people, and listen to what President Karzai said," Eide said. "I think he reflects a deep and growing concern within the Afghan public about the impact of what we're doing on the ground."

Eide said he was compelled to speak out because of what he called the "opportunity" presented by a change of presidential administrations in Washington. "It's a unique opportunity to mobilize energy and also to streamline our efforts," he said. There has been growing outrage in Afghanistan over U.S.-led military operations, including aerial bombings and house raids, that have inflicted civilian casualties and increasingly alienated the international security forces from the Afghan population that they are trying to protect.

In addition, Afghans have grown weary of the slow reconstruction process. More than seven years after the invasion that drove the Taliban from power, infrastructure still remains poor, and poverty and unemployment are high. During a visit here late last month by a UN Security Council delegation, Karzai lashed out in a private meeting at his foreign partners, criticizing mounting civilian casualties inflicted by coalition security forces and the lack of coordination in the development sector.

Karzai, whose office later distributed a transcript of his comments publicly, also urged the international community to do more to "Afghanize" the country by strengthening its security forces and government institutions. "Every debate about what we're planning to do in Afghanistan must be an Afghan-led debate; it must take place on Afghan terms," Eide said Saturday during an interview in his office in a guarded UN compound here. "If what we seek is to strengthen Afghan institutions and strengthen the Afghan government - and that's what we've been saying - then it must be clear to everybody that the debate that we are conducting involves the Afghans fully and has the Afghan in the leading role."

Eide, a Norwegian, assumed his post in April and, among other responsibilities, is in charge of coordinating the civilian redevelopment effort. Publicly, he has cut a figure of quiet determination. But during the interview, his emotions occasionally overrode his normally low-key demeanor, his voice rising in crescendos of pique. His comments come as the United States is planning to deploy more than 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to fight a strengthening insurgency, train Afghan security forces and prepare for national elections. An army brigade is scheduled to arrive next month.

Eide said that he welcomed the debate about more deployments, but that all future deployments must include a parallel debate, informed by the concerns of the Karzai administration and the Afghan people, about the impact of the military engagement. "Are we sufficiently sensitive to Afghan concerns?" he asked. "Are we sure that we behave in a way that brings Afghan communities closer to the government? Do we listen sufficiently to the concerns we hear from the president and so many Afghans? I'm not convinced that we are." He added, "We see how we can go wrong now."

Eide referred to an episode in August in Azizabad, a village in eastern Afghanistan, where cannon fire from an AC-130 gunship against what was suspected to be a Taliban hideout killed dozens of civilians. He said the incident "shook" Karzai and helped to focus his concerns more acutely on the problem of civilian casualties and other problems of the foreign military engagement.

Taliban vows more violence

Mullah Omar, the fugitive Taliban leader, is promising more violence over the coming year, even as the United States plans to deploy thousands more troops in hopes of turning around the deteriorating war in Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported from Kabul. In a statement posted Sunday on a militant-linked Web site, Omar also rejected Karzai's calls for peace talks until foreign troops leave the country. Afghanistan is going through its most violent period since the Taliban were ousted in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Omar released his message at the start of Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice.




FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.