April 05, 2005

Brahimi's Lullaby

by Armen

[NOTE: Cross-posted at Nuts and Boalts]

Liveblogging a talk by Lakhdar Brahimi, sponsored by the Berkeley J. Int'l L.

12:37 -- Homeless guy referred to earlier is present. But there is no food served, heh.

12:38 -- Introduction by BJIL co-editor-in-chief Will Trachman

- Turn off cell phones, morons

12:39 -- Intro by Dean Edley (I guess he does exist in person)

- LB an accomplished and effective statesman who will now work in Sudan.

- Prof. Buxbaum very accomplished also

12:43 – Prof. Buxbaum

- LB was envoy to Afghanistan for three years.

- In 2000 he issued a report guiding UN operation in war-time situations

- Brokered the end of Lebanese Civil War

- Indulging people of his generation to talk about LB’s beginnings in the anti-colonial movements of 50 years ago. LB grew up in Algerian anti-colonial movement. Under 30, he was representative to Arab league and then Amb. to Egypt. He became foreign minister of his own country before moving to the UN.

12:49 – Lakhdar Brahimi

- First off will not be talking about Iraq as much. “It is a bit dangerous to talk about Iraq these days.” He will talk enough about Afghanistan. Thanks the Boalt faculty and students because it is the fashion to bash the UN justifiably or unjustifiably. LB also wants to recognize colleagues who’ve helped him.

- Fall of Berlin Wall or 9/11 common ways of starting talk about international affairs, but he will resist the temptation. Just recently Kofi Annan released a report on the protection of freedom almost 2 years to the day from the fall of Baghdad. There are some 40 countries that are experiencing or have experienced conflict in the last 15 years. The sensible thing for LB to do would be to share a few thoughts and a few impressions that have stayed with him over the years. “Rather than attempt to rise to the high academic levels these walls are accustomed to, which I humbly confess are not within my reach” I shall remain within the role of the practitioner with my accent which Arabs find too French and the French find too Arabic. His talk will revolve around elections and dictatorships.


- Referred to as the exit strategy par excellence. In 90s it was questioned whether elections could stand alone as a process without other factors that go into stability. In Haiti elections failed to bring stability that Hatians were credited with. US and Europe spent millions on elections and today Aristide is again a refugee and there is yet again a peacekeeping mission in the country and a new election scheduled. In Angola in 92 the election was declared free and fair by US, EU, and Pan-African Union, but the country quickly plunged into a civil war for 10 years.

- Cost of elections. Every vote will cost a min $7, but up to $10. This does not include expenses on security (e.g. Iraq). In Afgh. security costs were nearly $100 mil. For the parliamentary elections donors are expected to contribute $148 mil for voting. This does not match US standards where a sen spends $70 mil on a campaign. But Afgh. does not have the resources to spend $250 mil every four years on elections. A credible, viable solution is necessary to ensure future elections. Such a solution exists but it is found in India and Malaysia. 8 million people voted in Afgh. but 600 million people voted in India. The UN is at long last looking to India about running massive elections in hostile and often contentious environments.

- In his discussion of elections, we might detect an obsession with his life-long plank against foreign rule. For this he does not apologize. If we are willing to look, it is not hard to find locals ready to take on the role of governing, the role that foreign powers often do not want to give up.


- It is hard to distinguish between wrongdoers and good-doers. In Afgh. he did not use the word warlord, but instead used “faction leaders.” He does not mean there were no warlords. There are too many of them. He is also not arguing for blanket immunity for these warlords. Dostum first fought as a Soviet mercenary. He then switched sides so many times that he probably does not remember when he fought, with whom, and against what enemy. He got 1 million votes. He probably got votes from most Uzbeks, but there were financial and fear factors. Another warlord is Ismael Khan. He ran Herat as if he owned the place. He collected all customs duties. He is profoundly conservative. He did not tolerate dissent or women in NGOs or in the UN. But there is more to the man. He was a patriarch and a hero of the resistance to the USSR occupation. This was the only city that the Soviets had to leave. He is to this day a doer rather than a talker. He spent a great deal of money to make the city the best run and the most beautiful. He is deeply religious and people are not wrong to compare him to Taliban. But he is committed to the education to women. Some wanted him to be removed from the city early but it was not possible. In 2004 he was finally given a ministerial position in Kabul. UN positions were attacked in the city when he was ordered removed because his loyalists believed the UN responsible for his removal. In his case national reconciliation are better than retribution. Today Karzai is calling for efforts to break the rule of warlord while at the same time calling for national reconciliation. Afgh. needs to strike a balance between forgiveness/reconciliation on one hand and justice and retribution on the other hand. S. Africa came close to finding that balance under Mandela and DeKlerk. Peace in Afgh. will not be complete without the full participation of former Taliban who are ready to participate peacefully in the rebuilding of Afgh. Exclusion of Taliban from Bonn Conference in Nov/Dec. 2001 was the original sin as per LB. It would not have been possible to bring Mullah Omar to Bonn, but it was not fair or wise to demonize Taliban so early. LB met MO. MO soft-spoken and poorly educated. No administrative background. Though MO and Taliban were aided by Pak. and S. Ara. they would not have gotten 90% support in Afgh. if there was wide-spread hostility to them among the masses. The big mistake of the Taliban was the hospitality they gave to foreigners like Osama. These influenced their actions such as the destruction of the Buddhist statues. The overwhelming majority of former Taliban would be willing to go home if they are given the respect and recognition of their families. It is important that when we go into a country raging with conflict that we listen to the people and not let our own biases cloud our judgment and agenda. We must not forget that in the real world, esp. in messy post-conflict situations we must make decisions about peace that might work in the short term but not in the long.


- Why were Taliban welcomed? Welcomed because the rule following the Soviets was not pleasant to anyone. Int’l presence now has moderated power of warlords, a function the Taliban performed. Omar, et al are calling for the overthrow of America because they are occupying, but people are not listening because they don’t consider US an occupying force. In Iraq people are listening to such calls.

- Question inaudible…TAL (transitional admin law) organized to assure Kurds they will have autonomy. Also problem of organizing election too soon, which led to hastily formed groups rather than political parties, except for the Kurds. LB partly responsible for the unrepresentative government under Allawi.

- Thinking about creating commissions or amnesty programs in countries? Truth commission in S. Afr took 5 years to form. DeKlerk stated that he could have challenged the election in 100 different constituencies. But what for? The whole purpose was to end apartheid. The election was almost a formality. Elections have to come at the right time in an integrated political process. If they come too early they may not succeed. So the question of tribunals is who will organize them? Who will be taken to court? Also we often claim to know the will of the people but which people? He refers to these as the 50 people who speak English. They know the vocabulary we love to hear here in the US.

- Fear of Taliban coming back? And why praise Khan? Doesn't think that T will come back but Afgh will remain a conservative country for a while. Democracy not a word he uses very often because he thinks it is a process that takes a long time to take hold. Khan has done many wrongs but he has not been guilty of mass killings but he is a ruthless dictator. He is a trained military officer. He has proved in Hirat that he is a builder. He can be a very good minister, but the problem is that he wants to be the interior minister.

- How can we defend the UN and acknowledge the complexity of IR while presenting it to people in a simple way? Sweeping changes and quick fixes do not work. You are working with real men and women, people who have fought for their country or killed in their country. You have to understand that it is not simple and that you do not have a solution--they have the solution. It is a very arrogant project because you think you can make people understand what they want much better than they do. At the same time it is humble and modest and careful.

About the UN, relevant or irrelevant: look, the US government said the UN is irrelevant because the UNSC refused to support the invasion of Iraq. Three months later the US was back at the UN asking for support. A year later the US was back at the UN saying we cannot form a government without you. It is this image of the UN that you can use to support the org.

At the same time we are human and make mistakes. E.g. in the oil for food program he is certain some have done wrong. But he hopes we can look at oil for food and ask why we had it in the first place. We had it because there were sanctions. What was the effect of the sanctions? Was it true that 500,000 children died because of the sanctions? Why did we not know that Saddam was making money off the sanctions? Where were the press at that time when Saddam was making money? Why did people not listen to the UN when it said the sanctions were not working but were hurting the people instead? Where were all these people who are now shedding tears for Iraq? Of course if you look at Fox News you can see they know what facts are and how bad Kofi Annan is.

1:45 END

Post Script

I will edit the mistakes (which I'm sure are many in number) later. Boothe was nearly full, so attendance was not at all a problem, despite the lack of food.

April 5, 2005 05:00 PM | TrackBack

Dig the site, added you to the blogroll. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: KG at April 6, 2005 06:50 PM
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