/ 28 March 2008

UN envoy arrives to boost teamwork in Afghanistan

The new United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, arrived in Kabul on Friday with a pledge to improve coordination with President Hamid Karzai’s government.

”The Afghan government has asked for that for a very long time and we have to respond in a better way than we have managed so far,” said Eide, a former Norwegian ambassador to Nato.

Eide, who is replacing Tom Koenigs of Germany, is taking over at a crucial time.

Karzai is under pressure with a presidential election due next year. He is faced with people’s frustration over a lack of security, slow pace of development and corruption within the Afghan authorities.

The enduring hardship faced by ordinary Afghans more than six years after Untied States-backed forces vanquished the Taliban has also fuelled some resentment towards UN agencies and about 43 000 Nato-led foreign troops still present in their country.

The Taliban insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan shows little sign of fading. The UN Security Council voted last week to extend for another year the mandate for the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and called for what UN officials describe as a ”sharpened” role for Eide.

Western diplomats on the council said Eide would have to assume more responsibility than Koenigs did in coordinating international civilian and military activities and will have to cooperate more effectively with the Afghan government.

Addressing a news conference at Kabul’s airport, Eide said the UN mission needed to find ”the right balance in dialogue with the Afghan authorities”.

He also aimed to give greater attention to ”the political dimension” of the mission, as more emphasis had been given to security issues in the past.

Eide, who at one time worked as a UN envoy in the Balkans, is known as an effective diplomat with experience in nation-building and dealing with Nato, but until now did not have a high public profile, even in Norway. Known as a behind-the-scenes deal maker without a high public profile, Eide was chosen for the post after Afghan President Hamid Karzai vetoed British Paddy Ashdown’s appointment following media speculation about the extent of his powers and possible influence over the Afghan government. – Reuters