Afghanistan needs Muslim aid effort

Nato envoy says Arab League and UN are missing in Afghan rehabilitation work.

Everts says non-Western nations should do more 
for Afghanistan’s reconstruction [Nato website] 

In the second of a two-part exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Daan Everts, the special civilian representative of Jaap de Hoop Schaeffer, Nato secretary-general, criticises Arab and Islamic countries for not doing enough in rehabilitating Afghanistan.

Everts, who officially demits his office on December 31, also says the Taliban could have a played a political role in Afghanistan.

Al Jazeera: You have mentioned the American point of view several times. Do you feel reconstruction in Afghanistan has been circumscribed by American political interests?

Everts: No. I am much more positive than others about US involvement in Afghanistan. Certainly, they have gone further on the road to integrating civilian and military efforts. They are of course dominant and you can’t blame them because they provide the bulk of forces and the bulk of the financial aid.

So there may be criticism sometimes about ways and behaviour but I would be the last to throw a stone seeing that the efforts of others are so marginal in comparison.

Do you feel Europeans are too politically coy about expressing their views because they are so dominated by the US?

Part one of interview with Daan Everts

Nation building key in Afghanistan

I don’t know what explains the relatively junior role of the EU. There is this issue of internal decision-making; it is not easy to get 27 nations on one line. America, of course, was psychologically much more motivated to move and act in Afghanistan. Anything that can be linked to 9/11 can be counted on to generate huge political interest.

The EU does express its views but it doesn’t have the clout. It is fractured not just because of the EU decision-making process but also by this regionalised provincial pre-occupation of member states – that has not helped a strong European presentation on issues.

More worrisome, I think, is the absence of others – non-European, non-American actors. I find that somewhat dismaying. Afghanistan is a geopolitically important country that can only become more important, being right at the cross-roads – the axis of central Asia, south Asia, west and the east. It has a strategic location and vast resources of minerals and energy – it is all here.

But I see no strong effort in the non-Western world to join the overall stabilisation effort. The whole task of trying to bring the country back on its feet and restoring security – by tackling the forces of the extremism and intolerance – why is this burden not more widely shared. Where is the Muslim world?

Sure, they provide some assistance. But why is there not more international interest? Why is it not a big priority with the UN?

The whole of Afghanistan does not seem to figure in the top of the priorities list in New York. I have been disappointed by the lack of focus from non-Western players. Maybe they consider this too much of America’s business. But this is not good because Afghanistan’s future is an issue of worldwide concern. I would like more of the UN to be here – like the UN police- and other countries to become stakeholders here and not sit on the fence watching.

So having more of a Muslim participation in the overall stabilisation – not just handing out some cash – but a larger presence in the international support effort would be beneficial. This also calls for de-emphasising the Western role here and to heighten the UN world-wide character and the Afghan ownership.

It is not easy to ask people not to be proud of what they do or claim success and it is probably needed for the home constituency. To be self-effacing is rare especially for prominent states but that is what is called for.

This is a real test case of cooperation between the non-Muslim and Muslim world, both of them in defence of modern Islam and against a very regressive variant that is a threat to mainstream Islam.

That’s why we expect a lot more support from the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) or the Arab League. They should see the great joint interest here to bring stability to Afghanistan; and to throw the Taliban back to where they belong, in the middle ages.

They should take a greater interest and a larger share. That would be perfectly all right. Take co-ownership. 

This is ironic that we are here in defence of mainstream Islam. This is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. And in the hours of need why are non-Muslim states taking the main share of the burden?

There are some efforts, of course, financially, but political support has been very lukewarm, maybe because it is perceived as US dominated intervention. But this is not right. This is UN-mandated.

Of course there is this fundamental mistake of mixing it up with Iraq – the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) mission is a very different venture – Muslim nations should make that distinction.

Do you think the Taliban should have been involved in the reconciliation conferences in Bonn in 2001?

This is a hard question. There are two views on it. The easy position is they should have been there – and you would not have driven them underground and into insurgency. Whether at the time of Bonn – an extremely emotional time after 9/11 – you could have had them in the Bonn conference and whether the Afghan side would have accepted them, I don’t know.

On the other hand when I see how former enemies and opponents sit together in this Afghan parliament and in this government – you have communists and war lords – they are able to live together [and] work together. It wouldn’t be beyond comprehension if you could have had the Taliban there – maybe not in Bonn but subsequently.

What we hear from the Taliban – directly and indirectly – is ‘give us an opportunity to open an office, have a political wing, a future role in elections’. One should not be afraid of it because what we see is that support for Taliban has always been very low even in the south – so we could bring them in the tent. Some say Bonn could have done it. But at that time for the hardliners that may have been a bridge too far.

But the Taliban were less about power sharing and more about deal making. Does the international community prefer to back individuals rather than a more equitable power sharing formula?

Yes, politics and governance are extremely personalised. This has been encouraged by the electoral system of a single non-transferable vote (SNTV) – it reinforced individualised dynamics. I don’t think that has been helpful – it would have been better to have allowed more organised structures, more political actors like parties.

That has been done elsewhere with good results. [In Afghanistan], the result has been an extremely chaotic parliament. There are 248 talking heads with very little discipline and little organised deliberations that are meant to produce legislation which the country so badly needs.

We deliberately did this. To reinforce presidential position and power you weaken the parliament – understandable from the US perspective who felt that the country, given its history and shattered state of economy, needed a strong hand. 

This approach is very personalised and very centred on one person to be in command. I think it is asking too much of someone to do everything – to take on the whole of the international representation and being a sort of father of the nation and making all sorts of difficult decisions – that is very hard.

Like being everything to everyone …

Yes, but then you cannot be effective in governance. That is a structural choice which can be reconsidered. It needs another loya jirga [grand tribal council] to make constitutional adjustments.

Source: Al Jazeera