World must enhance understanding of Afghanistan, says outgoing UN envoy

Special Representative Kai Eide addresses final press conference in Kabul

4 March 2010 – Success in Afghanistan hinges on a better understanding of Afghan society by the world and the assumption of greater responsibility by its authorities, the outgoing United Nations envoy there said today.

The international community’s tendency to make decisions with inadequate Afghan involvement has been considered “disrespectful and sometimes humiliating,” Kai Eide told reporters in the capital, Kabul, in his last press conference as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.

“Afghanistan is sometimes seen as and treated as a ‘no-man’s land’ and not as a sovereign State and that has to come to an end because it has fuelled suspicion of unacceptable foreign interference, a sense of humiliation and a feeling that Afghans do not have any control of their future,” he said.

As a result, Mr. Eide pointed out, a successful transition strategy depends on the international community’s ability to pay greater attention to Afghanistan’s needs. “We need to understand the pulse of Afghan society better than we do today.”

For their part, Afghan authorities must step up their determination to assume responsibility, he stressed.

“There is today still a tendency to push responsibility for difficult decisions on the international community and to avoid the main political challenges that face this society,” he underscored. “Afghan authorities have to fully assume responsibility for cleaning up their own house and for shaping their own future.”

The world must temper their expectations with the reality on the ground, said Mr. Eide, who will be succeeded by Staffan de Mistura.

“The clocks in foreign countries tick faster than real change in Afghanistan can perhaps cope with.”

Although achieving success in the next year or two in a country mired in conflict is impossible, it is vital that the Afghan people and the international community both understand that a durable solution is within striking distance, the official said.

2010 is a critical year for Afghanistan, the most challenging since the fall of the Taliban, he said, with many key events set to take place this year, including peace talks and a major international gathering in Kabul.

September will witness parliamentary elections, and Mr. Eide today voiced hope that the ground will be laid so that they will be seen as better than last year’s presidential polls, which were marred by accusations of fraud.

The Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that he has shared his concerns – particularly over the Independent Election Commission, the composition of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and the vetting process – with President Hamid Karzai in recent weeks.

“We are not yet where I believe we need to be, and we have to reach an agreement on all these elements before we can say we have reached an agreement,” he underlined.

Last week, the UN said it was reviewing a legislative decree that would give Mr. Karzai the power to appoint all five members of the ECC, which is supposed to be an independent body.

According to Afghanistan’s Electoral Law, three of the five members of the Commission – mandated to investigate fraud, as well as provide guidance, technical assistance and support – are internationals appointed by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

The remaining two members are nationals, one appointed by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the other by the Supreme Court.

In his most recent report on Afghanistan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote that there is “an emerging consensus among both local and international experts on the need for reform of the electoral system before the 2010 elections (parliamentary, district and mayoral) and future electoral processes in Afghanistan.”

For the 18 September polls to be successful, “Afghanistanization” of the electoral process is essential, Mr. Eide said today.

On the military campaign under way in the country, he highlighted that it must not impede the political process. Looking back on the two years he has served as Special Representative, the envoy said that he has seen stepped-up political unity within the international community, with the consolidation of the UN’s role as the main interlocutor with the Afghan Government.

The world body has also helped to address the issue of civilian casualties and “this has had a radical impact in the international military and led to tactical directives and operational modalities today that are very different from what we saw a year and a half ago,” he noted.

In spite of this and other successes, “I think we all have to admit that we should have and could have achieved more: that goes for the Afghan Government; it goes for the international community, including the UN; and the international military forces,” Mr. Eide said, voicing hope that this year will be a turning point for the South Asian nation.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN studying proposed Afghan electoral decree

Related Stories






In-depth Interviews