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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Apr 3, 2008

Super envoy's feet on the ground By Tarjei Kidd Olsen OSLO - The United Nations has given Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide an ambitious new mandate to coordinate the international community's much criticized military and civilian efforts in Afghanistan. "For me it will be important to work in a closer dialogue with the Afghan leadership," the "super envoy" told Inter Press Service. The new mandate, passed by the United Nations Security Council on March 20, is intended to help improve the coordination of international actors such as the UN, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Following the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, the United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban government it accused of harboring al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Today reconstruction efforts by the international community continue alongside NATO and US offensives against a resurgent Taliban. Crucially, the new mandate envisages improvements in the difficult relationship with the Afghan government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly vetoed the UN's original choice for envoy, the British diplomat Paddy Ashdown, because he feared that Ashdown would threaten the president's authority. "Without showing respect for the Afghan government as the authorities of the conflict, and without showing respect for the Afghan people, there is no way to make this function usefully. That really is a key to whatever I will do," said Eide, who was nominated to be the new "special representative" for Afghanistan by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on March 7. This view is supported by senior researcher Astri Suhrke at the Chr Michelsen Institute in the Norwegian city of Bergen. "It is very important that the international actors don't behave in a vice-regal fashion, because as Hamid Karzai certainly understands, that will undermine the authority of his government, and what we are trying to do is to strengthen the authority of his government," she said. Afghanistan has welcomed the appointment of Eide, but he faces a series of daunting challenges in his new job. The international actors have been criticized for being inefficient and wasteful in their humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, while the Taliban-led insurgency has been gaining strength despite NATO's offensive. More than 60 countries have economic assistance programs in Afghanistan, while 40 countries are contributing about 40,000 soldiers to NATO's combat and reconstruction efforts. "Coordinating all this is enormously difficult. There are challenges on all levels, dealing with the international actors, dealing with the Afghans, and dealing with the insurgency," Suhrke said. "The main international actor is the US, which is difficult to coordinate because they have a big military and economic presence, and they think that that entitles them to a strong voice. Then there is Afghanistan itself, a divided country with many different interests. And there are the militants - you have an insurgency which has increased rather than decreased in the last five years," she added. Kai Eide was the UN envoy to Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1997 to 1998, to Kosovo in 2005, and has held several positions in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He was Norway's NATO representative from 2002 to 2006. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mojahed has said that they do not trust Eide because of his NATO links, and expect him to fail. When confronted with this Eide insists that, while his previous engagements will make it easier for him to talk to the different players, he does not represent NATO in particular. "I am not a representative of any regional organization. I am a representative of the international community in the sense of the global community, and that will be reflected in the way in which I proceed with my work. Everybody will have to judge me based on what I say and do," said Eide. He added that "in the end we cannot have purely a military approach. We have to emphasize much more strongly the political dimension of what we are doing. This is certainly also the view of the Afghan government. "And we have to emphasize the developmental side, where it has been demonstrated over and over again that we need to exploit our resources much better. We have also underestimated the humanitarian requirements on the ground for a long time. None of this is new, but it is a question of emphasis, and of being more efficient than in the past." Eide does not want to say what his first actions as "special representative" will be. "It would be wise of me to set my feet on the ground in Kabul and to consult with the Afghan president and his government before I set any priorities." (Inter Press Service)

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