U.N. envoy Eide warns U.S., allies not to ignore civilian goals in Afghanistan

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 2010

UNITED NATIONS -- The top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan on Wednesday delivered a gloomy assessment of the U.S.-led effort to restore stability in the country and warned "we will fail" if the strategy there relies too heavily on military force.

In a presentation to the U.N. Security Council, envoy Kai Eide called on the United States and its Western allies to invest heavily in Afghanistan's economy and its civilian institutions. He said the Obama administration's "military surge must not be allowed to undermine" those goals.

"What we need is a strategy that is politically and not militarily driven," Eide said in his final briefing to the council before he steps down in March. "If we do not take these civilian components of the transition strategy as seriously as the military component, then we will fail."

Eide's assessment comes just three weeks before the United States and its military allies meet in London for a conference on security in Afghanistan. His remarks, which stressed greater investment in education, agriculture and infrastructure, marked one of his final efforts to leave an imprint on Afghanistan policy.

He also advocated for better salaries for Afghan government administrators, and a peace and reconciliation process that would allow the integration of Taliban insurgents who renounce violence.

After Eide's remarks, Rosemary A. DiCarlo, the U.S. representative for special political affairs, sought to underscore the Obama administration's avowed commitment to beefing up civilian participation in the Afghanistan transition. She said the United States, which is preparing to send 30,000 additional troops there, will soon triple its civilian presence in Afghanistan, from 320 last year to nearly 1,000.

"U.S. experts are also working with their Afghan partners to help rehabilitate Afghanistan's key economic sectors so that Afghans themselves can defeat the insurgents, who promise only more violence," she said. "To help reverse the Taliban's momentum, we are focusing our reconstruction effort in areas where we can quickly create jobs, especially agricultural ones."

The United States also has supported Afghan calls for integrating reformed Taliban insurgents into society if they lay down their weapons. Afghanistan's U.N. ambassador, Zahir Tanin, asked the council to lift sanctions on Taliban members "willing to renounce violence and join the peace process."

The United States and European countries have sought to drop sanctions against former Taliban members who have cooperated with the government, but Russia has resisted such a move.

Eide said that he is "deeply worried" about waning public support in the West for the mission in Afghanistan, the failure of Western forces to counter the Taliban insurgency and the growing frustration among Afghans over what they see as the failure of the international community to improve their lives.

"If these negative trends are not soon reversed, then there is a risk that they will become unmanageable," he told the 15-nation council.

Eide said the Western alliance operates "in a way that Afghans perceive as disrespectful and sometimes arrogant." Such behavior, he said, "fuels suspicions of unacceptable foreign interference and breeds a sense of humiliation."

The United Nations is concerned that billions of dollars in foreign assistance for Afghanistan have not been used to strengthen the nation's institutions. Less than 10 percent of foreign aid has gone directly to the Afghan government, and most of that is earmarked for projects supported by donors.

U.N. officials said they think Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has settled on a replacement for Eide, Staffan di Mistura, a dual Italian and Swedish national who headed the world body's mission in Iraq. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a French national who headed the U.N. peacekeeping department, and Ian Martin, a former U.N. representative in Nepal and East Timor, also have been under consideration for the job.

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