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UN Envoy Rejects Calls For New Afghan Strategies

Kai Eide (second from left) opens the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan's new Baghlan office in November.
Kai Eide is a former Norwegian diplomat with experience serving the UN as an envoy in the Balkans, but his new position as the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan presents a gargantuan challenge. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Hamid Mohmand and Breshna Nazari, Eide shares his views on some of the most critical issues faced by Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: Do you think Afghanistan is moving forward in the right direction?

Kai Eide: I think none of us underestimate the difficulties on the security side, on the economic side, etcetera.... In two important aspects we are moving forward. If you look at the Afghan security forces, they expand from day to day, from month to month. We decided to expand the Afghan National Army. We also see that we have a new minister of Interior, who is reforming the police and strengthening that. Then we also see much more focus on what I see as the key economic component, which is to develop the agriculture [sector].

RFE/RL: Despite your protests and lobbying to convince the international forces here to change tactics to avoid civilian casualties, we see no change on the ground in terms of military tactics. For example, recently some civilians were killed in a coalition air strike in the eastern Laghman Province. When do you envision seeing a change in tactics?

Eide: My hope is that there will be [a] sea change. What we see today is that the military also pays more attention to it. There is greater awareness of the problem. It will take time to see results. And I must say that it is very important to see those results soon because if we have 20,000 [or] 30,000 additional troops coming in. These troops must also understand that there are rules of engagement here that they must follow. That they must all avoid civilian casualties -- be careful with regard to detention and be careful with regard to house searches.

Backing 'The Government'

RFE/RL: There is a perception that you support President Hamid Karzai and his administration, and this has apparently angered his political opposition. How would you respond to such perceptions?

Eide: I don't think I am a supporter of anybody. I am a supporter of the government and the government institutions, and that is in my mandate. When I define "the government," what does it mean? It doesn't only mean the president and the government itself; it means also the parliament. I do see speaker [of the lower house of the Afghan parliament, Mohammad Yunos] Qanuni regularly. And I will see him very soon. So when I define supporting "the government," it means supporting the governing institutions.

RFE/RL: In a recent interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, one of your predecessors, Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, said that the international community had failed to properly implement the [2001] Bonn Agreement in Afghanistan. What is your reaction to this?

Eide: I respect his views. But I think, if you look back to what has happened since the Bonn Agreement, we have made quite some progress in a number of areas. Have we done it to the extent we want? No, we haven't. Have we been good enough -- the UN or the international military, donor community, or the Afghan government? No we have not. But I believe we made quite some achievements. What we have to do is to see to it that the Paris document which is now in place [following a donors conference held in summer 2008] -- is used as an instrument for implementation and in improving the situation in critical areas.

RFE/RL: In a recent interview you advised incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to resist calls to change strategy in Afghanistan. Can you elaborate on that?

Eide: I think we have a strategy. What the problem is is that, as I have said, we haven't implemented it. Why did I say I hope that we will not have a new strategic discussion? Because I do see progress in some critical areas. I mentioned the security side; I mentioned certain economic areas such as agriculture; and what I want is that we do not lose time by discussing grand strategies. Let's focus on implementing better, spending money better -- seeing to it that the international military forces behave the way they should. That's where we should really focus. Not on grand strategic discussions, but on concrete implementation on the ground. That's what the Afghan people will see. They will not have their lives improved by grand strategic discussions.

Delivering Security

RFE/RL: Don't you think that, given the prevailing security situation, elections can be held soon?

Eide: We all know that the security situation is challenging and difficult in some provinces and in some districts. We have to be determined to proceed toward the election step by step, hoping that whenever the elections take place, they can take place in a fair and secure way. That is the UN role and that's what we are doing.

RFE/RL: Do you support the Afghan government's recent overtures for a dialogue and possible reconciliation with Taliban?

Eide: Yes. In the sense that I believe reconciliation is important. I've said many times that military forces are important and necessary. But the ultimate solution is of a political nature. Therefore, I support and I will support a reconciliation process. But I say the same thing that President Karzai has said. It has to take place on the basis of the constitution.

Those who want to participate in that process must accept the constitution and they must respect the constitution. They must lay down their arms. They must distance themselves from Al-Qaeda and be willing to integrate themselves into society in a peaceful manner. And then, I must say also, there must be a domestic consensus among the main political players in Afghanistan for such a policy. That consensus will make sure that the reconciliation process does not create a new fragmentation but actually can bring peace and stability to this country. But I'm very much in favor of a political process taking place.

RFE/RL: In this connection, would you support removing the Taliban and the Hizb-e Islami from the United Nations Security Council's list of terrorist organizations?

Eide: My mandate is based on [United Nations] Security Council resolutions. One of those resolutions is Resolution 1267, which includes this list. So that's my mandate. But I must say also that it is up to the Afghan government to decide how that reconciliation process should take place. And when they define that process, then I will support it.