By Wojciech Moskwa
OSLO, March 15 (Reuters) - The new United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said on Saturday his top priority will be to better coordinate international development and aid efforts with the NATO-led military forces and Afghan authorities.
The Norwegian diplomat said more security in southern and eastern Afghanistan was needed to foster economic and social development, but that the solution to the war-torn state’s problems was political, not military.
"We have seen for a long time that the international community is not coordinating efforts well enough — the pieces do not fit together well as a result, and it’s the Afghans who suffer first," Eide told Reuters in an interview.
Eide said he was encouraged by a U.N. focus on coordinating relief and nation-building efforts and expected "flexibility" from all players "to make the pieces fit together better".
"We all know that the solution to the challenges we face in Afghanistan cannot be a military one. The security component is important, but the solution must ultimately be political," said Eide from his corner office in Norway’s foreign ministry. 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.
But soft-talking, bespectacled Eide made clear he expected the Afghan side to do its part. "It is the Afghan authorities that have to take the leadership... Afghan ownership is important and there is Afghan ownership in this process."
"Our goal is to shape our development assistance in a way that engages Afghans in sustaining such efforts and gradually taking them over," said Eide, a former ambassador to NATO and the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE).
Besides humanitarian efforts and development projects, Eide said he will also focus on helping build up Afghan institutions and their scope, facilitating political reconciliation and making every effort for scheduled elections to be held in 2009.
Eide saw his role as a "partner in dialogue" for Karzai and his government, reflecting their concerns to the international community and the world’s to the Afghan authorities.
The United Nations have said the Taliban insurgency, six years after the U.S. invasion and despite 43,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan under NATO command, was much worse than expected. Eide also stressed the need for increased security.
"Stabilisation of the situation in southern and eastern Afghanistan is an important challenge if we are to see development, either economic or social," he said. "The security situation can only be improved by the right mix of political, developmental, humanitarian and security measures."
A top U.N. official said this week a sharper mandate was needed if stabilisation efforts were to succeed and called Afghan institutions fragile and its officials corrupt.
"It is not difficult to point to the problems we face in Afghanistan — we are all aware of them on the security side, on the drugs side and many others," Eide said. "But I also believe we tend to underestimate the progress that has been made." (Editing by Sami Aboudi)