Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan

4 Mar 2010

Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

SRSG: Thank you very much and thank you also for coming to my last press conference as SRSG in Afghanistan.

I want to start by stating the obvious: this year, of course, will be the most challenging that Afghanistan has faced since the fall of the Taliban.

And I will say that it’s a year where negative trends have to be reversed, or they will become irreversible.

If we look at the political calendar it is very crowded, with a Peace Jirga announced, the Kabul Conference announced, and elections taking place on 18 September. All these events will take place at the same time as a big military operation is underway.

And while two of these events have the potential of becoming important unifying milestones – I’m thinking of the Peace Jirga and, then, the Kabul Conference. Then, of course, the two others – the Parliamentary elections and military campaign – are events and processes that can and will produce tension.

And, therefore, the election process must be prepared and implemented in a way that makes the 2010 elections to be seen as better than the elections in 2009, and the military campaign must be conducted in a way that does not undermine the potential for a political process to get underway.

Furthermore, there is tension between the fast-ticking clocks of the political calendars in some important donor countries and the realities of the Afghan context.

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

And it means that we all have to be aware of this tension. Afghan authorities must be aware of the need to demonstrate progress and to reform, and the international community must demonstrate realism with regard to the level of ambitions that we have over a short period of time.

Of course, decisive success within a year or two in a country marred by conflict is unachievable. But we have to demonstrate to the Afghan people and to the international community that a durable solution to the conflict is within reach.

The London Conference marked the introduction of a new phase of what I will call the transition strategy. I’ve said before and repeat again: a successful transition strategy depends on a change of mindset in the international community and among Afghan authorities.

There has been a tendency in the past to shape strategies and make decisions without adequate Afghan involvement and to operate in a way that Afghans consider disrespectful and sometimes humiliating.

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 control of their future

And, therefore, a successful transition strategy really depends on our ability (the international community) to listen more, to consult more, and to demonstrate greater understanding and respect for a society which is very different from ours, but one that will continue to need our assistance. We need to understand the pulse of Afghan society better than we do today.

But there is another side to this: Afghan authorities must demonstrate greater determination to assume responsibility. 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. That also has to come to an end. Afghan authorities have to fully assume responsibility for cleaning up their own house and for shaping their own future.

I think the Kabul Conference – and the preparations for the Kabul Conference – will represent an important test as to whether we are able to change our mindset and also address some of the key civilian challenges that we face today.

Critical elements here will have to be the building of sustainable Afghan civil institutions, improving governance and fighting corruption, and stimulating the growth of the Afghan economy, based on its own natural resources and its strategic location in the region, and, finally to develop a comprehensive educational system and to make better use of Afghanistan’s human resources and meet the requirements for a competent labour force and civil service.

Today, there are very serious deficiencies in all these areas. We see that in agriculture and infrastructure, there are critical elements that are still seriously under-funded, and where programmes are often designed in foreign capitals outside of Afghanistan. Capacity-building within Afghan institutions is still fragmented and without an overall plan, and the education system has been a success at the primary and secondary level, but little has been done at the university and vocational training-levels, which potentially can leave millions of students without further possibilities for education and competence-building.

I emphasize the civilian efforts, because there is a trend in particular now to focus on the military and security issues and the military campaign that is ongoing. I have warned and I warn again against militarization of our overall strategy in Afghanistan.

And let me mention three reasons: first of all, it creates a focus on short-term requirements rather than critical long-term needs; it creates a focus on a limited number of provinces instead of nationwide plans; and it risks enhancing the trend towards substitution of capacity rather than building capacity. During the ongoing operation we have to keep all these elements firmly in mind.

Let me move onto a specific issue that is of concern to me and the international community and many Afghans and that is the recently signed decree concerning the parliamentary elections.

I have been in consultations with the President over the last few weeks concerning the concerns that I have – and that the international community has – with regard to this decree, and those consultations I have conducted on behalf of the international community. The last conversation with the President was this morning.

And these discussions have focused on three elements in particular. One, the functioning and perception of the Independent Election Commission; second, the composition of the Electoral Complaints Commission, and, third, the vetting process.

I can say that we have made some progress, for instance, with regard to international participation in the Electoral Complaints Commission, and I made a number of other proposals concerning the other elements that are still under discussion. We have certainly not reached the finishing line, and I will continue these discussions until the day I leave Afghanistan.

Let me underline, 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.

The discussions we have also have implications on the scope and shape of international involvement in the Parliamentary elections.

At the same time, as we have discussed these short-term issues, we have also discussed the longer-term reform process and the need for such an inclusive longer-term reform process.

I believe that the “Afghanisation” of the election process is the right way to go and the only way to go, and I believe that the parliamentary elections should be one step in this direction and that a full “Afghanisation” of the process could then follow from a broader review and reform following the Parliamentary elections.

Let me underline one thing: this cannot and should not be a discussion only between the international community and the President of Afghanistan. It has to be as much or even more a discussion among Afghans and the Government, the Parliament and civil society.

You will probably accept if I say a few words or reflection on the UN and our role over these last two years.

I believe there is an agreement in the international community and also in the Afghan Government that we have during these last two years restored our role as the main political interlocutor with the Afghan Government on behalf of the international community.

And we have moved away from the situation where each and every ambassador approached the President and Afghan authorities with a number of different views. There is a much greater unity politically within the international community than there was two years ago.

I believe that we have also together managed to strengthen the coordination structures that we had following reform proposals we made in 2008, and that the Joint Coordination Monitoring Board (JCMB) has moved from being a discussion forum to a decision-making body. We saw that in particular during the last meeting we had a few weeks ago just before the London Conference.

I believe that we also played a critical role in addressing 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.

I think we have successfully solved some important human rights issues and most prominently the issue of Pervez Kambaksh, who is now a free man.

We have strongly advocated a need for a political reconciliation process which has now moved to the top of the political agenda. It is a part of our mandate which I take very seriously and I believe we have a level of trust and confidence in many quarters that is today unique.

Despite serious flaws in the 2009 elections, they were concluded without serious unrest and instability and with the Constitution intact. And I consider that to be an important achievement.

And the UN has strongly and I believe successfully advocated a need for reform-oriented ministers in key ministries, which has also led to a more strategic approach in the Government and better setting of priorities than we saw two years ago.

And, finally, UNAMA has increased its budget from US $75 million in 2008 to US $240 million in 2010, which is an unprecedented budget increase for any United Nations political mission and reflects the view of the international community that we do play an important role, and that has restored our image as the main political interlocutor.

That being said, I think we all have to admit that we should have and could have all achieved more: that goes for Afghan Government; it goes for the international civilian community, including the UN; and the international military forces. I do hope that 2010 will be the turning point that I mentioned initially and trends will be reversed this year, and we can see when we look back at 2010 that it was a decisive year in the history of Afghanistan and our overall efforts to solve the conflict in this country.


RFE/RL: There are reports that President Karzai’s recent invitation to the Taliban to attend a peace conference this spring has sparked disagreement and confusion among the main players in Afghanistan over the shape and speed of negotiations. My question is: will the possible peace talks in Afghanistan succeed?

SRSG: I think it is high time that we get into this kind of a political process. We talked about it for a long time and to my mind it is now time to talk. I believe the reconciliation and peace process - whatever shape it takes - should get underway as soon as possible.

With regard to different views on the shape, speed and scope of such a process, I believe that the Peace Jirga that the President has announced will be an important event for two reasons:

First of all it must be an event that can build national consensus around a peace process. And, therefore, (it must) also address the legitimate concerns that have been raised by various parts of Afghan society.

Second, is to mobilize society, to mobilize community leaders, to mobilize religious leaders, to mobilize civil society around such a national consensus policy. And you asked: do I believe it will succeed? I have always believed in an engagement policy. I have always believed that it is better to try to talk than to refrain from talking. But I have no illusions with regard to the complexity of such a process and the time that such a process may require.

AL JAZEERA: You said that you warned against the militarization of the overall strategy in Afghanistan. You are worrying about the future. Can I ask you about where you think we are now? Do the military have too great a role right now?

SRSG: Yes, in the sense that attention easily becomes focused on military operations and on the build-up of military forces. And that often happens at the expense of building the other components of Afghan society that are equally critical to a successful result and a peaceful solution to the conflict.

So, in that sense, yes, I believe that the focus is too much on the military side and too little on the civilian side. And that our strategy has unfortunately been too much military-driven with a political agenda as an appendix to military strategy, instead of a political strategy being the basis for the military operations. And there will always be a competition for attention and political energy. I believe that we do not have the right balance between military and security dimension, in one hand, as I mentioned, and the political and civilian dimension, on the other hand.

RADIO KILLID [translated from Dari]: I have two questions for the SRSG. The first is regarding the possible continuation and the increase in military activities in 2010. My second question is on the ban imposed by the NDS (National Directive of Security) on live coverage of (security) incidents. I want to know your views on that.

SRSG: The military have themselves stated that they do intend to expand military operations, and we will be kept regularly informed about their plans. For me, it is tremendously important that we understand that the military campaign in itself cannot solve the problem. It is what comes after the military campaign that will represent the solution.

At the current stage of the first phase of military operation, where it is the challenge of putting in institutions that will be critical for people’s trust in the future and also, of course, the start up of some economic development, although, I believe, most Afghans are very realistic when it comes to their prospects of quick economic development. They do want confidence in their future. That will depend on strong and solid institutions being put in place quickly.

On the second question, very briefly, I firmly believe in the freedom of the media and the rights of the people to receive information about events or developments that affect their lives.

FINANCIAL TIMES: You mentioned that you spoke to President Karzai this morning on the election decree. Could you tell us what is the content of your message on this decree? Is to rescind it and start again or to modify? What exactly is the message from the international community?

SRSG: I think I outlined what the concerns are and I have made concrete proposals in order to solve these problems related to the Independent Election Commission (IEC), Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and the vetting process. These are concrete proposals that I hope he will take into account. As I said, this has been a constant discussion. And then comes the longer term reform process that I hope will be embarked on once parliamentary elections are over. We are in the middle of discussions on this issue and I think I’ll wait until they are concluded before I give any final judgement on where we end up.

PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: Before your arrival there were lots of expectations of you in Afghanistan—that you would play a major role in the political process of Afghanistan. But when you arrived and you witnessed the presence of super-powers here, this somehow challenged your efforts. What have been the results of your two years of work here, because you could not live up to the expectations of Afghans? The second part of the question is: you raised concerns over the situation in Afghanistan. What is the main reason for your concern?

SRSG: Thank you very much. I do believe that we have played a major role. I do believe that the UN has played a more prominent role over the last two years than it did in the years before. Of course, the situation was completely different during Lakhdar Brahimi's time. But after the build up of Afghan institutions, I think within these two years we have been through a period in which the UN has played more of a role than before. If you ask Afghan authorities and the international community, they will agree.

I believe that there is also today - as I said earlier - much greater unity in the international community than there has been before. Have any of us lived up to the expectations? That depends on what your expectations were then and what your expectations are at the moment. We are in a country which is in deep conflict, and that, of course, limits the ability of all of us within the international community to live up to the expectations of the Afghan people. And within the international community that relates in particularly to the international military forces.

I think it also applies to the Afghan government. But, of course, if we had not been in a conflict that has grown more intense over the last few years, then we would have been able to live up more to the expectations of the Afghan people. There are many other reasons why all of us have not been able to live up to expectations and many of these reasons are related to the ongoing conflict.

The reason for my concern is, of course, the deteriorating security situation that we have seen over the last few years and the fact that we have not been able to stem the deteriorating security situation.

I do hope, with a set of tools both political/civilian and military, that we will be able to turn the tide in 2010, and I have said we must turn negative trends in 2010, because if we do not, then I do believe that those trends can become unmanageable.


FREELANCE JOURNALIST: You have mentioned the achievements of the UN in the last two years. But, also, your two year period has seen some different factors: the UN’s capacity to access areas has shrunk partially because of a lack of perceived neutrality; donors are directing more and more aid towards political and strategic objectives, counter to what UN has been asking for; the relations for the Afghan government has been testy; on the issue of rights we have seen an amnesty bill, shia law, an electoral law, and the decreasing space for women’s rights; and there have also been problems within the UN itself. Don’t you think that these three years have been a setback for the UN in some ways?

SRSG: I really feel strongly about where we have not been able to deliver the way we should have. The first issue you mentioned was access to various parts of the country that are in conflict. We have been able to conduct successful vaccination campaigns during these two years. In fact, the last campaign has been the most successful in many years and we have been able to preposition and deliver food as best as we could. But, the fact remains that much of this country is in conflict and it has impeded regular access for humanitarian assistance.

With regard to the issues you mentioned such as recent legislation, yes, I believe that legislation has been setback. I have fought over and over again in my speeches and I have also addressed the issues of women’s rights and I will continue do so in my last appearance here in Afghanistan on Saturday morning. I expressed my deep concern about the marginalization of women in society and the importance for a country - for human rights reasons, but also for in order to develop a society. You cannot build a country on just 50 per cent of the population. Women - and what women represent - have to be included fully in the building of this country.

You said the relationship with the Afghan government has been testing. Yes, it has at times, but that is what I expected. I did not expect that we will agree on each and every issue. There has been some very frank discussions and some strong disagreements. But those, I believe, as I said earlier, are important successes. I do believe honestly that you will not find in Kabul any other international representative who has spoken out so clearly regarding some of this phenomenon, and that includes corruption, impunity and the role of warlords and power brokers. I repeatedly raise these issues more strongly than, I believe, any other international representative has done in Afghanistan. I have done it on behalf of the international community.

I believe in a country like Afghanistan, you do not produce dramatic changes in one or two years. Change takes time and, as I said, I think, that is one of the main challenges that we are facing today to match the impatience of the international community with the pace of change that is possible in the Afghan society.


SABA TV [translated from Dari]: Given that there have been no reforms in the IEC, how do you expect the Parliamentary elections to be? There have been concerns expressed regarding the security situation in 2010. It shows the situation continues to be deteriorating. Don’t you think it is time to think of a new strategy for all these efforts?

SRSG: I said to you that one of the elements we are discussing is precisely the IEC and the reform of the IEC, and I believe that is important. With regard to what you say about the deteriorating security situation, is there time for a new strategy? I believe that a political process is indispensable for finding a solution to this conflict. That is why I have been arguing for this since almost the day I arrived, and I am pleased to see today there is a much greater consensus for a need to enter into such kind of a process.

When I started talking about this a year and half ago, I was met with great skepticism in the international community and also among many in Afghanistan. I believe we can say today there is almost a consensus in the international community, and there is much greater support for that kind of process inside Afghanistan also. These kinds of discussions also take time. Thoughts of this nature need to mature, but I believe that we are on the way to establishing this consensus.

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Does the international community have any general concerns about the initial inroads that have been made on reconciliation. How much of an imprint should the international community have or Afghanistan’s neighbours have on this process as it moves forward?

SRSG: First of all, with regard to the role of the Afghan Government, of course, it has to be Afghan shaped and an Afghan-led process. That is why I believe that the Peace Jirga later this year will be an important event that will have to be shaped by the Government with national consensus behind it. Then, it has to be supported by the international community.

We have to orchestrate our efforts also in a way that can promote the process and not do the contrary.

We have to situate our efforts - whether on the civilian or military side - and shape them in a way that can promote such a process. It’s quite obvious that regional cooperation is necessary to make such a process succeed. I wrote in a recent article that this relates in particular to Pakistan. We need a clear and genuine commitment and participation from the Pakistani side for such a process to succeed. I chose those words deliberately.

MCCLATCHY GROUP: Obviously there has been a lot of discussion and uncertainty about what Pakistan’s arrest of Mullah Baradar and others has meant for this peace process. There is one school of thought that this is actually undermining the efforts by taking the moderates off the table and having Pakistan trying to put more of a footprint on this process. What’s your conclusion about this and what did those arrests mean for the political process?

SRSG: I do not want to add to the speculation. Please refer to the answer I gave to the previous question.

NEW YORK TIMES: I apologize if you have answered this before. Did you meet with Taliban representatives before the London Conference or with an independent mediator to discuss it? Does the UN remain an honest broker? Because, surely, the attack on Bakhtar Guesthouse has proved that you’ve moved into the role of political player in Afghanistan, and that attack was a clear indication from insurgents to punish or single you out.

SRSG: I have been asked many questions about where and when and with whom did I meet on 8 January. On that particular date I was in an airplane the whole day. Did I meet anybody in Maldives? I have never been to Maldives, but I’d like to go there.

Apart from that I really don’t want to comment on who, where and when it has happened. I do not think those kind of answers are for the public domain. But let me add two comments on this since you mentioned the Bakhtar Guesthouse: I said in my introduction that I believe that we have greater confidence and trust in many quarters than most other players here have. I said in many quarters. I didn’t say in all. But I do believe that an engagement policy is important.

BBC PASHTO RADIO [translated from Pashto]: When you came to Afghanistan, you had lots of hopes and expectations to be fulfilled, but despite that you witnessed still a lack of coordination among the international community, and there is still no supervision of aid going through international community and not going through the government. And also the civilian efforts (are) much less while the military is increasing. People are still confused about where to go and in which direction is UN going for the Afghan people.

SRSG: Expectations I had of course. You have hopes and expectations. That is quite natural, and you should have that when you go for a job of this nature. But the realities of Afghanistan are difficult, and they have become much more difficult over the last two years, and none of us have achieved what we wanted to achieve.

When it comes to coordination of aid, it’s a tremendously complex issue. Individual donors set their priorities on the basis of discussions and various interests in their own capitals. And big aid bureaucracies are some of the most difficult institutions to change. What I hope and what I see are that we are setting priorities more clearly, and there is no doubt about it that the Afghan Government, not least through its finance minister, but also other ministers, are setting the priorities more clearly. And then we have to move from priorities and initiatives to concrete fundable programmes. And that is what I hope that we will use the time between now and the Kabul conference for. Because only when we have fundable programmes will we be able to discipline donors to set their priorities more in accordance with Afghan priorities.

Do I have frustrations about this? Yes, every day. Let me take just two examples. I have constantly said 'spend more money in stable areas where you can generate economic growth.' But we are in a situation where some donor countries have decisions by their parliaments to spend a specific amount of resources in one province. So these are processes which are difficult to move, and it takes time. 80 percent of all PRT projects have a value of under US$100,000. They are quick impact projects with a high degree of quick collapse risks, and we warn against this, but countries believe that where they fight they have to build and build quickly and often in the time period when the commander is on the ground. That creates a time perspective that is not sustainable growth, and we have to move away from it. I believe we can set priorities better through the Kabul Conference, as I said. I believe also that we can discipline donors better than we have been able to do so far.

On the direction of the UN: The UN is an instrument of the international community. It is an instrument of the Security Council with its mandates. It is a very demanding mandate only fulfilled if the main members of the international community support it, not only in words but also in deeds, political action, and as well as in the way they spend their money. But I do believe we could be moving into a better direction, and that will primarily affect the people of Afghanistan in a positive way. We measure success sometimes wrongly. There’s a tendency to measure by the number of ribbons you can cut in six months. Better to measure it in number of thousands of Afghans employed simply building roads, railways or other big infrastructure projects can create durable growth in this country.