Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

An Interview with Lakhdar Brahimi

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

An Interview with Lakhdar Brahimi

Article excerpt

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI is the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General and served as the UN Special Envoy in Iraq. Ambassador Brahimi led the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and was entrusted with overall authority for the UN's reconstruction activities there. Mr. Brahimi also served as Special Representative to Haiti and South Africa and directed special missions to a number of countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Liberia, Nigeria and Sudan. Mr. Brahimi was Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria and served as the Under-Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. The Journal of International Affairs spoke with Ambassador Brahimi on October 15, 2004 at the UN headquarters in New York.

These are the personal views of Ambassador Brahimi and do not reflect the position of the United Nations. The UN now has a new Special Representative for the Secretary-General in Iraq [Ashraf Qazi] who speaks for the UN on Iraq.

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There is much optimism following the elections in Afghanistan. Will the elected president enjoy legitimacy among ordinary Afghans?

There is real reason to be optimistic about this election. It has been much better than anybody had any right to expect. And probably the main message is that the people will do anything, they will go anywhere if they think that tiffs will bring peace and stability and security to them. So I think what they have understood from this election is that this is going to take them one step further towards this goal. There's absolutely no doubt that the president is going to enjoy much better capability and legitimacy than he had before. But as always, it depends what he does with it. He has to show that this is indeed taking the country one step ahead, one step forward in the quest for stability that the people want.

Does this bode well for Parliamentary elections in the spring?

Sure, very much so. But let's go a little bit back. We--the United Nations and Afghanistan--had been under very, very strong pressure to organize the elections in June. The people who knew what they were talking about, who knew where Afghanistan was, all said that it is not a really big problem if it is delayed for two or three months. Because this is really the last stage in the Bonn Agreement.... The first one was the creation of the commission for the preparation of the Loya Jirga. The names of the members of the commission were supposed to be announced on January 22, 2002 [in Kabul] but we were at a donor conference for Afghanistan in Japan. When it didn't happen immediately people started asking, why? They were wondering, is this real, why has it been delayed, is it going to work? Is this Bonn process holding? So we came back [to Kabul] I think on the 24th, the Secretary General was there, it was announced in his presence, and people calmed down.

In a recent speech in front of the German United Nations Federation, you said that from the perspective of the international community, the people who were facilitating the process, the most important decisions end up having to be taken early on, before we are knowledgeable enough to anticipate what their implications might be. It's interesting that you seem to be suggesting that there is a lack of information on the side of the interveners, but there's also a lack of information on the side of the parties on the ground about whether the commitment is really strong?

That's a different point.... We go into the situation in general when things are really bad. And we go into situations where we had no previous knowledge. Brad when you are asked to go in you are asked to put together a conception of a mission and ... to plan for three years.... In Afghanistan, when we went in 2001, I had already done two years and resigned in 1999, so I had some familiarity. When I went to Iraq, it was a place I had known for fifty, years. But even in Afghanistan, where I had worked for two years, and in Iraq that I had known for fifty, years, I am now finding out how little I knew when I had to make very important decisions. …

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