Kai Eide served as the United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) from March 2008-March 2010. He was also the SRSG in Kosovo in 2005 and in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1997-1998. Amb. Eide has been a member of the Norwegian Foreign Service since 1975, and held posts at NATO, the OSCE, and as Special Adviser on the Balkans at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In this interview, Amb. Eide challenged the notion that Afghan corruption is only petty corruption, and that big corruption is exclusively international. “Certainly, there are people engaged in corruption at a large scale,” he said. “Some money disappears to district governors, province governors, and others on the way, unfortunately.”
Though the Ambassador said he has heard that charge launched from both sides. “Let me also add that Karzai believes that when he sees a person coming in, a technical adviser from abroad, with a salary of $500,000-600,000 a year, then he believes that that is corruption.”
When asked about critical steps toward the withdrawl of most of the international forces by 2014, he said, “I think it’s going to be a very difficult time that we have ahead of us. As I mentioned, I believe that a peace process of some sort is absolutely necessary.”
Throughout the interview, Amb. Eide stressed the centrality of Afghan ownership in addressing the challenges at hand. On the subject of development assistance, Amb. Eide said, “They [the Afghans] have not only to lead, but be firmly in charge, because as we now soon start reducing our development assistance, they have to know how to do it themselves. We cannot say they are not mature enough. We have to make them mature enough to take that task.”
Besides making sure the process was Afghan-led, Amb. Eide felt the other challenge was building national consensus. When asked about confidence-building measures with the Taliban, he said, “Unfortunately I think this confidence-building phase only just started, and that we have to continue with confidence building in the political field, including release of detainees, including delisting of 1267 list, and then also in the humanitarian field, access for vaccination programs, food programs, and so on.”
And discussions with Taliban, he said, will not work if they are only a dialogue between the US and the insurgency. “Peace in Afghanistan cannot be made by the international community,” he said. “It has to be made by the Afghans themselves.”
He also said the region must be included in the process. “Afghanistan has Pakistan to its east, Iran to its west. Both have to be brought into the peace process in one way or another, so that their legitimate concerns are taken into account.”
Amb. Eide also discussed the limits in his role as SRSG, especially around issues of human rights and women’s rights. “I experienced, very often when I tried to engage in debates on human rights issues, that even women’s networks said to me, ‘Be careful now. You are an unfaithful,’” he said. “I would have preferred that we had had more Muslims, for instance, in the UN mission, who could take part in that debate from the same perspective of being Muslims. For me, it was certainly a handicap that I could not do that to the fullest extent.”
The interview was conducted on January 26, 2012 by Maureen Quinn, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Maureen Quinn (MQ): I am sitting here with Kai Eide, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, and author of Power Struggle Over Afghanistan: An Inside Look at What Went Wrong and What We can do to Repair the Damage. Welcome to the Global Observatory.
Ambassador Eide, in your book you write that “[Afghan President Hamid] Karzai sometimes claims that the big corruption is caused by the international community and that Afghan corruption is merely petty corruption.” You comment that Karzai’s claim is not true. What do you see as the sources of corruption and the impact corruption is having on Afghanistan?
Kai Eide (KE): Well, I think that, from the Afghan side also, there is more than petty corruption. Certainly, there are people engaged in corruption at a large scale. And, of course, what we have seen over the last few years is that corruption has in fact grown. They have not been able to handle it the way they should, and haven’t done enough certainly. But, let me add to that, there are several sources of corruption.
Of course, what you see coming into the country, foreign assistance plays an important role here, because I don’t think we have—the donors—and I don’t think the Afghans have, certainly, the right kind of mechanisms of control and accountability. Some money disappears to district governors, province governors, and to others on the way unfortunately.
Let me also add that Karzai believes that when he sees a person coming in, a technical adviser from abroad, with a salary of $500,000-600,000 a year, then he believes that that is corruption. Of course, we would not say this, but he believes it’s corruption. And the Afghans see that kind of behavior from the international community, and it angers them. I have many examples of this, and for them as I say, it is corruption.
Petty corruption is, of course, when you have a provincial governor, or a police chief charge $10 for a stamp on a document. Is that petty corruption? Well, in a way. But if you earn $60 a month, then it is not petty corruption, and it also angers the Afghan people.
MQ: Current NATO/ISAF strategy is often referred to as “fight, talk, build.” Do you think that strategy can work?
KE: Well, I am pleased to see that those are the three words we now focus on, because before it was ‘clear, hold, build’. Now we talk more about ‘fight, talk, build’. So the ‘talk’ has recently come into the equation, and that, to me, is tremendously important.
What we have seen over the last two years is a gradual shift in the views of the international community. We are now… there is a readiness to talk from almost all quarters. That is relatively new. When I came in, in 2008, we were almost alone to say that a political bargain had to be struck, and that you also have to talk to leaders of the insurgency. Now, I think most of us believe that is true. And I think that’s the only way to go. This will not be solved, in any way, with military means. It will be solved in the end through a political solution.
MQ: During your tenure from 2008 to 2010, you initiated outreach to the Taliban. You write about working to identify steps to de-escalate the violence, mentioning confidence building measures, including the consideration of cease-fire arrangements. What would you suggest for confidence building measures today?
KE: Unfortunately I think this confidence-building phase only just started, and that we have to continue with confidence building in the political field, including release of detainees, including delisting of 1267 list, and then also in the humanitarian field, access for vaccination programs, food programs, and so on. And then I believe we have to move into the security field. And that’s why I suggested a long time ago that we should try out if local ceasefires were doable. Could they be arranged for a specific period of time? In the beginning, perhaps is very hard to arrange these kind of ceasefires in an asymmetric warfare. It’s difficult enough in conventional warfare, but certainly in the situation we are in in Afghanistan, it‘s much more difficult. But I believe it will be a useful test on the sincerity of the insurgency to come to the table for a dialogue. So, it should be tested, it should be tried, as one among many steps towards a regular dialogue.
MQ: Afghanistan and the international community have a sovereignty agenda –also called the Kabul process. It is an agenda to ensure that security and governance is Afghan-led, Afghan owned, and Afghan driven. What can the international community do to ensure that that actually happens? How can you have the voices of Afghans and Afghan civil society included?
KE: First of all, when it comes to development assistance, when I came in, in my mandate was an element related to aid coordination. I was tasked to coordinate donor assistance. In my role, that is not the role of the international community. It has to be done by the Afghans. They have not only to lead, but be firmly in charge, because as we now soon start reducing our development assistance, they have to know how to do it themselves. We cannot say they are not mature enough. We have to make them mature enough to take that task.
And then, secondly, if we look at the military side, security side, certainly, the build up of their Afghan national security forces is very important, so that they also can take charge of their own security, and that is on its way.
The third is within the field of discussions with the Taliban. I think it is tremendously important that this does not become a dialogue between the international community—well, the United States—and the insurgency. That simply will not work. It can be one component, but not the most important component. Peace in Afghanistan cannot be made by the international community. It has to be made by the Afghans themselves. They have to decide how to organize themselves, how they see their future, how they make peace with each other. Nobody can substitute that role. So I hope that when we say we will “Afghanize” the process, we will give them responsibility, they will be in the lead, then we will actually do it also, because we have been talking about it for quite some time now.
Let me just add to this that, what I fear, of course, is that when we are in a hurry, then we don’t have the time to give the Afghans the lead. Because of course, processes will work more slowly in a way when the Afghans are in charge, they have to get used to it. We have to understand that even if we now see, perhaps, an end to the international military presence in Afghanistan, we must not be eager to lead ourselves. We must do what we have promised, turn responsibility over to the Afghans.
MQ: On human rights, you outline the injustices and hardships that Afghanistan’s women face and the continuing power and influence of warlords. You do conclude that the international community can have a lasting impact to ensure that human rights are protected and promoted. Could you talk about that a little bit? About how the international community can contribute to that.
KE: First of all, if we now move into a peace process, I think it’s tremendously important that we, in the international community, stand firm on one principle. What has been achieved, for instance through the constitution, which gives girls and women equal rights, possibility to take part in public life, possibilities to education, that we do our utmost to protect that. And then we can, of course, also refer to civil society. We can support civil society, strengthen it, enable it to have a real voice in the debate on political issues. That is tremendously important. We have done a lot, but we can do more.
Finally, let’s remember one thing: the main debate on human rights has to be between Afghans themselves. I experienced, very often when I tried to engage in debates on human rights issues, that even women’s networks said to me, “Be careful now. You are an unfaithful.” And you must be careful, so that you are not seen as somebody who do not have any legitimate role in this debate. I would have preferred that we had had more Muslims, for instance, in the UN mission, who could take part in that debate from the same perspective of being Muslims. For me, it was certainly a handicap that I could not do that to the fullest extent.
MQ: You conclude in your book that a peaceful resolution is possible. Looking ahead to 2014, it is a critical year: the withdrawal of most of the international forces, the election of the next President, and the likely shrinking of foreign assistance. What do you think are the critical steps for the Afghan government and the international community to take now to ensure a successful transition and to avoid the possibility of a return to civil war?
KE: I think it’s going to be a very difficult time that we have ahead of us. As I mentioned, I believe that a peace process of some sort is absolutely necessary. There are some first, important steps, that seem to be taken. That is promising, but we are only at the start of the process. I mentioned that the process has to be Afghan-led; that is crucial, I believe. And then there is another challenge, that we must see to it that there is a national consensus inside Afghanistan. Today, President Karzai faces opposition, from even within his government, but in particular from representatives of other ethnic groups. He has to be helped to build the national consensus that is required. And we must also take our role in that. We concentrate so often on President Karzai; we must also focus on all the others who can be spoilers in this kind of effort. So, I believe that’s important.
Then, of course, we have the regional dimension. Afghanistan has Pakistan to its east, Iran to its west. Both have to be brought into the peace process in one way or another, so that their legitimate concerns are taken into account. That is not easy, particularly in a situation where the relationship between the US and Pakistan and Iran is more complex than it has been for quite some time. But it is absolutely critical.
MQ: Thank you very much for joining the Global Observatory.