The UN coordinator for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, is advising the Security Council and other diplomats against rushing into nation-building efforts in the devastated country. During high-level meetings in New York this week, Brahimi is urging the international community to address pressing humanitarian needs in Afghanistan.
Brahimi arrived in New York on October 14 after meetings in Geneva, Paris, and London with humanitarian and other regional experts. In addition to meeting Security Council members, he has held a series of bilateral meetings with diplomats. On October 18, he met with Richard Haass, the US State Department official charged with coordinating US policies toward post-Taliban Afghanistan.
The US-led anti-terrorism campaign presents an opportunity to end more than two decades of conflict in Afghanistan and promote lasting stability, Brahimi said during a meeting with journalists. But in order to achieve a viable peace, the international community needs to be "extremely careful" about imposing a solution.
"Afghanistan is a very difficult country," Brahimi said. "They don't like to be ordered around by foreigners. They don't like to see foreigners there, especially in military uniforms."
Brahimi is staking out a firm position on UN involvement in the Afghan state-building process. "The UN is not seeking a transitional administration or peacekeeping [role] or anything like that." When asked how he would respond if the Security Council imposed a mandate on him, he replied, "Ultimately the Security Council will take that decision, but we will definitely make absolutely certain they have all the facts before they take their decision."
After his meeting with Brahimi, Haass said there were no differences in the US and UN views on Afghan state-building issues. He described the response to the current Afghan crisis as "very much, obviously, a work in progress." Haass's comments seemed to contradict an earlier statement by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who called for UN peacekeepers in Afghanistan. On October 19, Brahimi met with Haass and other US officials in Washington.
At the closed-door meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Security Council members on October 16, Brahimi told participants that humanitarian assistance was the most immediate need, and that negotiating with Afghanistan's neighbors to facilitate the delivery of supplies ought to become a top priority. To that end, Kenzo Oshima, the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will travel to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in late October to hold talks on enhancing cooperation and securing land corridors for humanitarian aid deliveries.
At the Council meeting, the US Ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, expressed support for a regional political solution, saying "we are not going to dominate the post-war process." Brahimi has given tacit support to a French proposal of creating an internal security force comprised of Afghans not aligned with any particular group in the conflict. Such a force might be more acceptable to Afghans than foreign peacekeepers, even those from Muslim countries. "I don't know why foreign Muslim troops would be more acceptable," Brahimi said.
In his efforts to forge a political solution in Afghanistan, Brahimi would not rule out any options, nor would he categorically exclude any parties from potential negotiations. He said he would consult all Afghan sides, as well as the many outside countries that either have influence over or interests in the country. This includes the group of countries known as the "6 plus 2" Afghanistan's six immediate neighbors plus Russia and the United States. Brahimi said this group might meet at the ministerial level in November, during the UN's general plenary debate. He also said the Organization of the Islamic Conference is a "potential partner" in seeking a political solution to Afghanistan's turmoil.
Brahimi was reappointed in October by Annan to a position he held previously before quitting in frustration in 1999. Brahimi said he decided to accept the reappointment because "I think that the Afghan scene is changing, and I think it is reasonable to expect that the Afghans will have second options that are not the status quo."
He added that internationally, "there is a very very real political will that is emerging and consolidating, if that is the word for it, to support the United Nations in providing relief, peacemaking efforts, and later on peacebuilding. This is a very very substantial change." He said he was encouraged by an initiative led by the former Afghan monarch, Mohammed Zahir Shah, to form a broad Afghan governing coalition.
UN officials and diplomats recognize that for any post-Taliban government in Afghanistan to be effective, it must be made up of Afghans, and be selected by Afghans. At the same time, UN officials realize that logistical hurdles may require that the UN play a role in facilitating the establishment of administrative structures. As one diplomat put it, "it takes more than top level politicians to govern the country."
Todd Diamond is a journalist who covers the United Nations.