A former UN envoy to Afghanistan takes stock of his uneven, bracing two-year tour.
As the special representative to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2010, veteran Norwegian ambassador Eide presided over a tumultuous time overseeing presidential elections, as well as a transitional era between American administrations. He calls his tour “the two most dramatic years since the fall of the Taliban in 2001,” largely as the result of tension between Afghan authorities (and insurgents) and the international community. Preferred by President Karzai for his “mild-mannered” ways, Eide agreed with the president that more authority should be transferred to Afghan institutions in the administering of humanitarian and development aid. The UN mandate for the Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) was to be a more aggressive leader in coordinating aid, while toeing a fine line between civilian and military organizations. Eide had to fill vacant positions and give the UN mission more political direction, while maintaining its independence (he reminds readers that the UN had been in Afghanistan since the late 1940s, not since 9/11). While the Bush administration was eager and ready to give the mission monetary support, there was little regulation of that bounty, resulting in highly paid middlemen and rampant corruption. With the arrival President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, a more rigorous accountability ensued, with something that looked like a real strategy—“in many ways similar to ours,” writes Eide. The author considers at length the international monitoring of the 2009 presidential elections (he depicts a remarkably close, frank relationship with Karzai), the rise of insurgency, often as the result of local resentment over the international presence, and a rapprochement with a (changed) Taliban. Eide writes persuasively from the Afghan point of view and urges the need for “Afghan ownership.”
Clear-eyed, pertinent account from a leader who derives his experience from the trenches.