15 OCTOBER 2009
|FEUDING AFGHANISTAN ENVOYS ERODE SECRETARY GENERAL'S CREDIBILITY. WHY NOT FIRE BOTH AND
APPOINT A HEAVYWEIGHT?
An increasing number of diplomats are wondering: Who advises Secretary General Ban Ki-moon? There
have been so many "unforced errors" lately which could have been avoided or at least presented better.
A widely publicized feud between two senior envoys of the Secretary General -- his own staff under his own
official authority -- has unduly eroded the credibility of the Secretary General and the obviously marginal role of
the U.N. in Afghanistan.
Two clashing egos, two formerly close friends turned political adversaries, two politically connected individuals
confident of strong backing (from outside the U.N., of course), were driving the U.N. name into political quicksand. Each of
them, opinionated as always, was confident that he was reflecting a predominant viewpoint; each of them
determined -- and able -- to go the whole way regardless of U.N. position or interest.
The Secretary General -- Mr. Ban Ki-moon in this instance -- had the authority and the right to call them both in,
clip their wings, and keep them (and the situation) under reasonable control. Better yet, he could
have demonstrated courageous leadership by firing them BOTH -- announce a serious re-evaluation, and place
a high-level heavyweight to lead a refreshed mission.
Instead, he first looked uncertain, then partial to one side, perhaps in the belief that it was the same as that
of the U.S. Administration. However, a mere reading of U.S. media would have indicated that the U.S. Administration
had not yet made a definite determination. Ban Ki-moon was thus unnecessarily caught, not only between his two dueling
envoys, but unduly trapped within competing spheres of influence within the U.S. His predicament was compounded by
his own statements or those attributed to him at crucial moments.
On Tuesday, 29 September, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the press publicly that Peter Galbraith, U.N. Deputy
Representative in Afghanistan, had his confidence. The following day, Wednesday, 30 September, it was officially announced
that he was fired.
On Monday, 28 September, it was mentioned that Mr. Galbraith will be attending the Security Council meeting the
following day on the role of U.N. Mission in Afghanistan. The following day, Tuesday, the U.S./U.N. diplomat did not
Either our esteemed Secretary General was not aware of what was going on, or he was putting up a (trembling) stiff
Anyone following the tension within the U.N. Mission in Kabul would -- and should -- have informed the Secretary
General that his two main envoys in a very sensitive -- and visible -- area were at each other's throat. Not that it mattered
much in the great scheme of events. Neither of them is seriously relevant to the main strategy of any party. They were mainly
part of the general decor. But when the conduct of Presidential elections became an issue, decor -- and decorum -- mattered.
Speedie (Kai) Eide swiftly sided with Karzai, taking a cue from an initial statement in Washington. But Galbraith, taking
another clue from a more cautious approach at the U.S. Capitol, took a contrary tack. The first sign of open dispute
was signaled when the number Two abruptly disappeared from Kabul and reappeared in Boston. He comes from a prominent
Democratic family; his father, Professor John Kenneth Galbraith, was Kennedy's ambassador to India and once an
intellectual guru of the Eastern Establishment. Peter does not quite measure up to his father's stature, but is
reported to have a big ego problem. While his visit to the Harvard base was to muster support, the number One, Kai Eide,
made his way to U.N. Headquarters in New York, where senior American officials, as well as European and other key
figures handling Afghanistan were making their annual pilgrimage. Kai Eide is no pushover. A tough experienced
diplomat, he has an idea about where some of the bodies are buried. That means he knows that with due deference to the
Galbraith name, some influential Democrats totally dismiss him as a persistent nuisance. Besides, Eide, who had
made his choice with Karzai, is an outspoken insider within the Norwegian diplomatic establishment, which carries
weight not just with the European Community, but also with Washington. As a reassessment was being made in favour of a
clipped-winged "President Karzai" (with a deal on who will be the next Prime Minister), the Boston Brahman was dropped in favour
of the Norwegian street fighter. But as Eide got the politicians on his side, Galbraith had the media -- helped by
the helplessness of U.N. "Communications" officials.
Ironically, the two have been very close friends for years. Kai introduced Peter to his Norwegian wife and the two couples
went on sailing trips in the Adriatic. They may continue their feud or make up and sail together again. But the harm is
The U.N. came out looking like a free wrestling ring. The Secretary General, whose reputation we all wish to
preserve, appeared out of real control, swaying with the latest telephone call. More important, Afghanistan was badly
served by having two openly conflicting views within the U.N. -- the only comprehensive international organization of
which it has been an independent member since its inception.
Perhaps the Secretary General would have been well-advised to fire BOTH and put in place a fresh credible team. A
credible United Nations would at least offer a glimpse of hope to the Afghan people. But such an open ego feud only
compounded the irrelevance of their work with clueless confusion.