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Afghan Bonn Architect Says People's Needs Have Been Forgotten

Lakhdar Brahimi
In December 2001, as the Taliban regime was collapsing, a number of prominent Afghans met under UN auspices in Bonn, Germany, to decide on a plan for governing Afghanistan.

As a result, the Afghan Interim Authority was inaugurated with a six-month mandate to be followed by a two-year Transitional Authority, after which elections were to be held.

Lakhdar Brahimi played a key role at the talks as special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan. Speaking to Helena Malikyar of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan seven years after the conference, Brahimi discussed the shortcomings of the Bonn agreement and of the international community.

RFE/RL: In a recent article in "The Washington Post" you said that in retrospect, you now see the shortcomings of the Bonn agreement. Should some of the elements of the Taliban have been included in the negotiations?

Lakhdar Brahimi: No, they couldn't have been included in Bonn because they wouldn't have come even if we had asked them, and then the Americans would never have allowed the Taliban to be there. But I think we should have been very much aware that until the end of October [2001] the Taliban controlled 95 percent of [Afghanistan's] territory. And I think the few people we got from the south, I mean frankly, were groups of exiles which were not really representative of the south.

So we should have gone back and I think we said [too] timidly -- this is what I can criticize myself for -- I think we've been too timid. When we went back to Kabul we should have said, "Now let's see how we can win back the people who were not represented in Bonn."

RFE/RL: Meaning the Taliban?

Brahimi: I think if we had gone to the Taliban then -- they were demoralized, scattered all over the place -- they would have appreciated that and many of them may very well have joined the political process. But we didn't, so that was one big mistake.

RFE/RL: So why didn't it happen?

Brahimi: That didn't happen because of the usual arrogance of the foreigners and because of course also the enemies of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, were very happy that, you know, [the Taliban] had been beaten roundly and here came the foreigners and put them back in power. And they didn't want to share power with anybody else. And I think the Iranians, the Russians, the Indians, and the Americans were all saying: "Remnants of the Taliban? What are you worried about? They're gone, it's finished, they'll never come back."

Losing Sight Of People's Interests

How do you assess NATO's role?

Brahimi: We thought that NATO coming out of its natural territory, which is Europe, for the first time, would do its very, very best not to fail. But it hasn't been the case. Very, very frankly, to put it very mildly, NATO has been a disappointment in Afghanistan. They are not working together very well.

Each country is really running its [own] policy. They have what they call caveats. Every country comes in with a lot of conditions. They say: "These are the things that we accept to do. And these are the things that we do not accept to do." The poor secretary-general of NATO has people who will always tell him: "No, no, no. This is not for me."

RFE/RL: What's your advice for how to proceed, then?

Brahimi: The international community as a whole -- perhaps not the United Nations, but lot of others -- has lost sight of the interest of the people of Afghanistan. And I think we need to go back to that. What are we doing in Afghanistan?

This nonsense about fighting terrorism in Afghanistan doesn't make any sense. If you help the people of Afghanistan, rebuild their state, international terrorism will disappear from Afghanistan overnight. If you don't do that, you will kill a lot of people -- both the people you call terrorists and I'm afraid a lot of innocent people -- and you will just as a matter of fact help this international terrorism to recruit more people.

RFE/RL: So it's time for a new strategy in Afghanistan?

Brahimi: What I'm saying is that, yes, you need a new strategy. You don't need a new strategy, you need a strategy. Because there has been none until now. That strategy needs to be made around the needs of the people of Afghanistan.

This is the central issue. The central issue is not to hunt Mr. [Osama] bin Laden. The central issue is not to see when the army of Holland, or Canada, or the United States is going to leave Afghanistan. Let's see what are the needs of the people of Afghanistan and see how we can help the people of Afghanistan address those needs.

RFE/RL: What's your assessment of General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, and your advice to him?

Brahimi: General Petraeus is a brilliant soldier and not only a soldier. I happen to know him. He was in the mission in Haiti with me in the early 1990s. He's a brilliant soldier, he's a brilliant strategist, but this is not for Mr. Petraeus to do alone. He has to do it with his allies. And he and his allies have got to do it with the people of Afghanistan. Strategies that are worked out in Washington or in Brussels, there are plenty of those. And they haven't worked.