Could the UN be the west’s exit strategy in Afghanistan?by Hugh Roberts / April 13, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Eide (second from left) arrives at a UN compound in Kabul with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (third from right), November 2009. Photo: UN/Eric Kanalstein
Power Struggle Over Afghanistan: An Inside Look at What Went Wrong—and What We Can Do to Repair the Damage
by Kai Eide (Skyhorse Publishing, £18.99)
Kai Eide, one of those honourable public servants Scandinavia gives the world in such disproportionate numbers, has published his account of running the UN in Afghanistan. If you read one book about Afghanistan make it Barfield, Rashid or Coll. But when the time comes to write the history of that country since 2001—what a philippic against western leaders that will be—Eide’s will be a useful testimony. For now, it raises the central question about what to do next in Afghanistan.
Eide deserves credit for exploring contacts with the Taliban and counting Afghan civilian casualties when neither was fashionable. He was given the responsibility but not the authority to coordinate aid: “Where did all the money go?” is the apt title of one of his chapters. Few foreigners have worked more closely with President Karzai. For some, he was too close, and dissent over his handling of the last presidential election spilled acrimoniously onto the world’s editorial pages. According to his deputy Eide was underplaying Karzai’s fraud; to Eide, his deputy was in league with Richard Holbrooke to replace Karzai.
What is the point of sending a representative of the United Nations to a desperate corner of the Earth? In other words, when a UN official steps out of a white plane or land cruiser, what, beyond his own wits, does he bring? Sometimes soldiers, though usually too few to be decisive. Exceptionally, interim executive powers. But his greatest and often his only asset is legitimacy.