Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

International Engagement

Congratulations, Francesc!

Thomas Ruttig 10 min

The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) conveys its best wishes to Ambassador Francesc Vendrell, Chairman of its Advisory Board, former Special Representative of the UN and the EU to and in Afghanistan, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Find below some of his selected statement, predictions, warnings – and also some regrets for misjudgements.

General statements:

“If the international community […] is willing to stay in Afghanistan for the long haul and by staying in Afghanistan I mean worrying and caring for Afghanistan, I think it is possible to find a solution.” (BBC, 14 October 2001)

“[A]ny role that we play in Afghanistan must have the full consent of the Afghans. (…) The Afghans must see what the allies are trying to do now as a chance for their liberation, they must not see this as an occupation.” (BBC, 14 October 2001)

“[W]e do need to develop a strategy – first of all we need to develop very clear objectives as to what kind of Afghanistan should emerge from this conflict. And we need a new strategy, because peace in Afghanistan is not possible only by having the two warring sides talk to each other. You need the support of those countries that are playing a role inside Afghanistan by encouraging or supporting one side or the other.” (IRIN, 30 April 2001)

“[Y]ou need to feel you understand the conflict and the issues – that’s not so easy – it’s not the simplest conflict around the world.” (IRIN, 30 April 2001)

“I think that [the Afghans] don’t want to have a government imposed on them by a minority of their own citizens.” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 25 February 2009)

“I think it’s terrible when people say that it’s up to the Afghans to decide their form of government. Of course it’s up to the Afghans. But have they ever been given a chance to choose? After 2001, the Americans but also the Europeans, we backed the warlords. We have supported a weak and corrupt government. It’s like saying the people of Zimbabwe might not want anything better. Of course they want something better”. (BBC and Chatham House, 6 October 2009)

“The message needs to be clear: We will not withdraw. We stay until we have fixed the situation. The worst we can do is to hint that we would withdraw when we suffer too many casualties.” (Tagesschau, German TV, 1 June 2006)

“I think that calling for the withdrawal from Afghanistan is basically saying ‘let the Afghan people down once again’.” (BBC and Chatham House, 6 October 2009)

“I am skeptically optimistic.” (IRIN, 30 April 2001)

“This year, what we need to do is insist that the government in Afghanistan changes its approach, that it fights corruption and impunity and that it gives some hope to the Afghans that things are going to change again. If that doesn’t happen within a year, I think we’ve had it.” (BBC and Chatham House, 6 October 2009)

On his pre-9/11 mission:
“The first thing I learned [on my first trip to Afghanistan] was the extent of the misery of the Afghan people. My first task will be to help the Afghan people. Above all, that means trying to achieve peace. […] So you have to try to bring about a situation where the two main Afghan sides, other Afghans who are fighting for freedom and peace, as well as the regional countries and outside powers cooperate in bringing about a peaceful solution to the Afghan misery.” (Azadi Afghan Radio, 4 March 2000)

“[T]he only concrete step [in the peace process] had been in November [2000] when we got the agreement of the two sides [Taliban and Northern Alliance] in writing to enter into a process of dialogue to achieve a political settlement, with a commitment not to withdraw from the dialogue until the agenda had been covered. As you know, the Taliban, after the imposition of the sanctions by the Security Council, said that the UN could no longer be an honest broker because [of] the sanctions [which] had been imposed against the Taliban. […] The Secretary-General played no role, one way or the other, in the imposition of the sanctions. I am hopeful that the Taliban have not said their last word”. (IRIN, 30 April 2001)

On proselytizing NGOs under the Taleban:
“Let’s say that it is careless, and particularly in terms of the Afghans. I mean, I think that they have the right to put themselves at risk. (…) [I mean t]he foreign aid workers. But I am much more doubtful as to whether […] they should jeopardise the well being of the Afghans.” (ABC Australia, 14 August 2001)

On the Petersberg/Bonn agreement:
“I think my role is to knock heads together a little bit, to push the various Afghan groups to cooperate with each other, to forget about the past and to realize that they now have a very little window of opportunity which did not exist before and may not exist for much longer.” (BBC, 20 November 2001)

”This conference is the first step towards a united Afghanistan that can exercise its right to self-determination.“ (Frankfurter Rundschau, 20 November 2001). But: “It would be almost a miracle when the Petersberg agreement could end more than 20 years of war.” (tageszeitung, Berlin, 26 November 2001)

“In Bonn, there only was the English version that all military units must be withdrawn from Kabul. Meanwhile, we realised that the Dari version says that all military units must be withdrawn from Kabul’s streets. We hadn’t noted that difference. This leaves a lot of room for interpretations, of course.“ (tageszeitung, 30 January 2001)

“It would have been much more advantageous if the capital had not fallen into the hands of a single group.“ (tageszeitung, 30 January 2001)

“We had misjudged the behaviour of the international community in Bonn. We assumed that it would expand ISAF beyond Kabul early on and make us of its mandate on the basis of chapter 7 [of the UN charter] to enforce peace. Both did not happen. Therefore, the warlords‘ militias were not demobilised, which would have been essential for the establishment of a representative government.” (tageszeitung, 19 December 2003)

“At the Bonn conference in 2001 some of us favoured a deeper UN footprint out of a conviction that, after 22 years of conflict, international forces would be welcomed by Afghans, ready for a period of international tutelage to rebuild their country and be rid not only of the Taliban but also of the Northern Alliance warlords. The opportunity was lost. And it is too late to revive it now.” (Guardian, 16 April 2009)

On the Emergency Loya Jirga:
“The key to all this is to ensure a level playing field from now on” so that no single group has an advantage in the loya jirga, Vendrell says. This is critical, he says, because “one of the root causes” of war in Afghanistan is the lack of legitimacy of past regimes, which turned into “invitations to outsiders to come in and help their favorites.” (Christian Science Monitor, 23 November 2001)

On the constitution and the Constitutional Loya Jirga:
“I was very disturbed this morning when chairman Mujaddedi, perhaps not realising what he was saying, threatened the delegates who had sponsored an amendment suggesting that Afghanistan be called the ‘Republic of Afghanistan’ instead of the ‘Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.’ (…) It has not been transparent. There has not been a willingness to gather all the right people (…) from different tendencies, not only jihadi leaders, to try to thrash out compromises.” (AFP 1 January 2003)

“[T]he report that came out from the reconciliation committee [which had to reconcile different amendment proposals] ended out not being the final text being distributed (…). So I must say I’m concerned. I’m also concerned that there is an ethnic polarisation that was unnecessary, that could be, if allowed to be continued, to be very damaging”. (AFP 1 January 2003)

“The elections for both Loya Jirgas were problematic. There were intimidations because the warlords and local commanders still had control.“ (tageszeitung, 19 December 2003)

On elections:
“I think in the current situation, you cannot have free and fair elections for either the head of state or for the Parliament (…) In such an agreement [i.e. Bonn], there is a tendency to follow in a ritualistic way the letter of it, rather than the spirit of it. The danger is this: Elections that are not credible among the Afghan people would be a setback for the process.” (Christian Science Monitor, 31 December 2003)

“We have to make sure that elections are held in a secure environment which are credible to the Afghans and advance the political process rather than retard it.” (Wall Street Journal, 8 January 2004)

“I am troubled at the prospect of elections held in the absence of disarmament and in an insecure political environment.” (Yale Global, 1 June 2004)

“Given the disputed independence of the election commission, a UN-agreed consensus among the major candidates and political forces on how to proceed is essential. Otherwise there is every risk that the outcome will be widely regarded as fraudulent, leading to deepening ethnic polarisation, widespread cynicism about electoral politics and a president divested of legitimacy – all excellent news for the Taliban.” (Guardian, 16 April 2009)

“To have an election that was scandalously fraudulent was something that was foreseeable, there should have been a Plan B to prevent this from happening or to do something about it. I think we will commit an enormous error if we allow the election and the results to be accepted as if nothing had happened. I would call for a roundtable conference of Afghan leaders, have a period of interim rule of a kind of national government, leading to parliamentary and presidential elections next year and a totally different scenario. Not with the same electoral commission, which is totally biased.” (BBC and Chatham House, 6 October 2009)

On President Hamed Karzai:
“It was one thing to make him head of the interim government: You needed a halfway charismatic Pashtun who was not linked to the Northern Alliance (…) and Karzai met those conditions. It was another thing to concentrate all power on him subsequently and to make him the single magic solution in the country as it was done by the US. (…) I also see the danger that Karzai the Magician now is turned into Karzai the Scapegoat.” (Berliner Zeitung, 20 November 2009)

“It would help Mr. Karzai enormously if, in one go, he got rid of 15 or 20 Afghan public figures who are notorious and disliked by most Afghans. It would help his image enormously.” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 25 October 2009)

On ISAF and other foreign troops:
“I am delighted that the UN Security Council and NATO have agreed to expand beyond Kabul. This should have happened two years ago.” (Financial Times, 9 January 2004)

“I think that the population in the south are, if you like, somewhat sceptical as to whether this military presence is going to achieve anything. Because after four and a half years there is a feeling among the Afghan people that not enough has been achieved, that very little, from their viewpoint has been accomplished. And therefore I think it is likely that for the time being the Afghan population will sit and watch, and see whether we are effective or not.” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1 August 2006)

“Some countries in Europe need to be reminded that Afghanistan is not just a faraway place we know little about. It is a country that is central to the security interests of the West.” (Washington Post, 28 November 2006)

“In 2002, we were being welcomed almost as liberators by the Afghans. Now we are being seen as a necessary evil, perhaps something that they need to put up with because our departure would probably mean a civil war, but these kinds of actions completely undermine the efforts to win hearts and minds.” (BBC 9 September 2008)

“Afghans once welcomed the international presence. The initial welcome is turning into impatience and even downright hostility.” (McClatchy Newspapers, 23 January 2009)

On militia disarmament:
“In 2002, the warlords and commanders were shaking in their boots fearing they were going to be disarmed or cast aside. Now it’s much more difficult.” (BBC, 5 December 2006)

“Although most Afghans believe that the international military presence is necessary, they are much less enthusiastic now than 2002. Partly, because the expectations were too high, partly because we made mistakes. The Afghans had hoped that we would liberate them not only from the Taliban but also from the commanders and warlords. But in contrast, first the Americans and then also all others collaborated with those warlords. We have not disarmed and disbanded those groups and accepted bad governors and corruption. That created a lot of disappointment.“ (Tagesspiegel, Berlin, 17 June 2007)

“The most crucial mistake was to continue to consort with the warlords and commanders who had brought ruin to Afghanistan in the 1990s and to continue to favor them,” Vendrell says, “and also to do nothing to ensure that the government of Afghanistan — the government in Kabul — had a monopoly on the use of force. I think that has been the key flaw of the whole exercise.” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 28 September 2009)

On security sector reform:
“The emphasis should be on quality”. (Guardian, 16 April 2009)

On President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy:
“It would have been preferable if any deployment would have waited until there was a total review of the strategy to be followed — and also greater consultations with the allies. And then, only in that context, it might make sense to send more forces. My impression is that no Afghan public figure is actually calling for more foreign forces. (…) One has to be careful in terms of increasing the foreign military presence because — although we have been very lucky that the Afghan population has welcomed, particularly in 2001 and 2002, the arrival of international forces — I think, we have to be careful that our welcome is not wearing out. There is a danger of spreading the blame for what has gone wrong in Afghanistan. And undoubtedly President Karzai, knowing that he is often portrayed by his own people as being perhaps almost a puppet of the Americans, wants to show that he is not one.” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 25 February 2009)

“Regrettably there is as yet no commitment by the administration to abide by the Geneva conventions and additional protocols, or to close US detention centres, where conditions are at least as harsh to those in Guantánamo. Nor is there a promise to start negotiations with the Afghan government on a status of forces agreement that – like the one recently concluded in Iraq – would regulate the presence and conduct of US forces in Afghanistan.” (Guardian, 16 April 2009)

On the Taleban:
“One must make sure that one does not confuse the Taliban with the Pashtuns.” (BBC 14 October 2001)

“When the Buddha, the Bamiyan Buddhist statues, when the decree came out, I confess that I was under the impression that this decree would not be implemented. That they would realise that their relations with the outside world would be so jeopardised that they wouldn’t think it worthwhile to do it.” (ABC Australia, 14 August 2001)

“The Afghan government and the president need to define a framework about how to proceed with any reconciliation talks with the Taliban. And the president needs to reach a consensus with other legal political forces in Afghanistan as to what this dialogue with the Taliban will consist of. And then, of course, he needs to have on board the key members of the international community. I personally think that one should start by making approaches to some of the local commanders who may be fighting in Afghanistan not because they want to establish an Islamic emirate, but because they have local grievances that have not been met.” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 25 February 2009)

On the German discussion on Afghanistan (and whether there is “war”):
”I have no problem at all that this is a war – although I prefer to talk about an armed conflict. I understand that, for historical reasons, the Germans don’t like the term ‘war’. When this new term is used now … What was it? Yes, ”a war-like situation”. Never heard this before. But look at it as follows: It is getting closer to reality, after all.“ (Berliner Zeitung, 20 November 2009)

On TV:
Finally, see Francesc Vendrell’s Hard Talk interview when he was outgoing as EU Special Representative (BBC 9 September 2008) here.


EU Francesc Vendrell UN