On January 24, The Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies and the Center for International Conflict Resolution, at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, presented an event entitled, “Power Struggle Over Afghanistan: An Inside Look at What Went Wrong – and What We Can Do to Repair the Damage”
Ambassador Kai Eide, former United Nations Special Representative to Afghanistan and former Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), presented his book along with a reflection on his time as SRSG from 2008 – 2010. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations provided a unique perspective, offering both an Afghan view and an account of his inside experience at the United Nations. The discussion was moderated by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution (CICR) and Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs. Mr. Guéhenno is no stranger to Afghanistan himself, he was central in shaping the UN’s work there as Under Secretary-General for Peace Keeping Operations from 2000 until 2008.
He started his presentation with a captivating exclamation, “I was accused of hiding votes! It’s hard to live with that in your reputation…” Through his book however, Ambassador Eide was able to confront the controversies over the elections in Afghanistan with real facts and details. By the end of his remarks at Columbia, it became clear that Ambassador Eide kept the best interest of Afghanistan – a sustainable peace and a functioning Afghan-led state – as the guiding light for all his work. It is for this reason that Afghan leadership so admired his efforts.
As Ambassador Tanin explained, “Kai’s book is offering, most importantly, a striking insight into the role of the UN and the SRSG in relation with both the government of Afghanistan and the international community in a critical time.”
During Ambassador Tanin’s remarks he discusses the UN’s long involvement in Afghanistan. He gave a brief but detailed glimpse into the interworking of the UN, SRSG and UNAMA in Afghanistan. “In 2001,” he said, “soon after the US-led military intervention and the breaking of the Taliban command in Afghanistan, the UN became central for hammering out a new internal arrangement, which essentially informed the Bonn process.” Ambassador Tanin goes on to describe UNAMA’s role over the last decade, noting that at times “it practically filled a vacuum created by the steady disintegration of state as a result of long decades of war and crisis. From 2001, it worked not only on behalf of the international community but also on behalf of the state that it was sanctioned to support.”
Speaking about the SRSG, Ambassador Tanin describes how in late 2007 it became apparent that, “a new paradigm emerged among some international players, emphasizing a strong role for the SRSG.” This is where Ambassador Kai Eide emerges and was appointed as the new SRSG. Ambassador Tanin described his candid advice upon his initial meeting with Mr. Eide: “it is essential to understand the Government of Afghanistan and work with it, it is important to balance relationships with all actors, and it’s necessary to bring order to the UN house.” Those words helped forge the partnership that lasted until the end of his tenure and always reinforced the messages they shared in Security Council debates and their talks together.
Mr. Eide’s book as Ambassador Tanin says, “is a real guide for understanding many un-speaks. There are no better warnings than the accounts and assessments that Kai offers us in this book, if we don’t want to lose this struggle or the necessary support of the Afghan people.”