Power struggle over Afghanistan, if negative trends are not reversed through batter coordination, Afghanistan will faces civil war, says former UN Envoy
On March 6, 2010, I boarded my last flight out of the Afghan capital as the UN envoy.
Two years had passed since my arrival in Kabul. At that time the most urgent task had been to bring some order to a chaotic international engagement in Afghanistan. I had arrived with hopes of being able to make a difference and help shape a strategy that could finally work. Now I was tired and bitter: tired from two dramatic years of a constantly worsening security situation, political disagreements and personal rivalries, as well as the media attention that followed it all; bitter from the strong feeling that I had not achieved what I had come to achieve.
The previous day, I had said farewell to President Karzai during a small ceremony in his palace. Our relationship had been close and friendly for almost two years. The farewell ceremony had been a rather formal event. Karzai was disappointed in me because he believed I had not stood up strongly enough against the United States and other foreigners who had interfered so blatantly in the presidential elections. And I was disappointed in him because he had become more dependent on the warlords and powerbrokers that had destroyed Afghanistan in the past, and should not be allowed to contaminate its future.
But the most important reason for my bitterness was my ever-growing disagreement with Washington's policy towards Afghanistan, which was increasingly dominated by military strategies, forces, and offensives. Urgent civilian and political requirements were treated as appendices to the military tasks. The UN had never been really involved or consulted by Washington on critical strategy-related questions, nor had even the closest NATO partners. More importantly, Afghan authorities had mostly been spectators to the formation of a strategy aimed at solving the conflict in their own country.
During a visit to Washington shortly after the Obama administration had taken over, one of the senior ministers of Karzai's government sent me a text message.
"Neocolonialism," it read. That was all. In my opinion, the US strategy was doomed to fail.
As my plane circled over Kabul, gaining altitude before flying over the mountains that surround the city, I looked down on the capital for the last time. Kabul had become a fortified city with a constant proliferation of concrete walls, sand bags, barbed wire, road- blocks, security checks, bomb-sniffing dogs, and speed bumps. The city I was leaving was very different from the one in which I had walked freely around during my first visit in September 2003. As a result of the worsening security situation, the ability of the UN and other civilian organisations to operate across the country had become severely limited.
I have long been fascinated by Afghanistan's beauty and by its people, and I have missed them both every day since I left the country. During my many flights around the country, I used to look out of the window to see how much snow had fallen on the mountain ranges and to see the colour of the ground beneath me. Would the crops be sufficient this season? Would there be more food shortages, or would there be floods? Would we reach vulnerable areas with emergency aid in time?
On a helicopter trip over the central Bamiyan province, I could see a man and a woman with their donkey, high up on a mountain ridge. We flew almost close enough to see their faces, and still the distance between us felt indescribable. Voter registration for the presidential and provincial elections was taking place and my days were filled with challenges related to the election process. The two people below me had far more important concerns than how they would get their registration documents. We lived so close to each other, but we existed in two very different worlds.
In so many meetings with foreign dignitaries, I had to come back to some basic facts to illustrate the challenges we were facing. Afghanistan is a country with weak and sometimes non-existent institutions. Its infrastructure is so poor that 3,000 donkeys were hired to bring election material to remote parts of the country during the 2009 elections. The illiteracy rate is still around 70 per cent, and in remote villages, it can be hard to find anybody who can read or write. Afghanistan lacks the middle class that is required for sustainable development to take place quickly. A significant part of the country is engulfed in an armed conflict. All of this combined makes rapid progress impossible.