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wafghanashdown17/BNStory/Inter national/ UN's new Afghan envoy a tough critic of the West DOUG SAUNDERS From Thursday's Globe and Mail January 17, 2008 British politician and diplomat, known for his controversial views on Western conduct in foreign countries, appointed to powerful post LONDON — For the passengers on the lower deck of the 159 Bus as it headed across the Thames to Westminster one recent morning, it was a scene from a previous century: At the front of the red doubledecker, oblivious to his surroundings, was a silver-haired, red-faced man loudly reciting verse after verse of Kipling to a reporter. Paddy Ashdown explained that his father had been an officer in Britain's imperial army in Kandahar when it occupied Afghanistan in the 1930s. And now Mr. Ashdown himself, in one of history's odd twists of fate, is about to become king of Afghanistan. Within weeks, it was revealed yesterday, this veteran British politician, diplomat, soldier and international overseer of Bosnia will become the United Nations's new super-envoy to Afghanistan. It is a powerful and unprecedented new job - born of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's desperation at the deteriorating state of security and democracy there, and supported by the United States and the European Union - that will likely have Mr. Ashdown co-ordinating the operations of NATO, the UN and the EU in their involvement with the Afghan government. In a week when Canada has been plunged into conflict between the roles of its military and diplomatic officials in helping Afghanistan rebuild itself, the UN is hoping that Mr. Ashdown will be a powerful organizer, bridging the widening chasm between the military and diplomatic forces of 39 nations, making him in some respects more powerful than the Afghan government. It is just as well, he says, that he was forced by his father to memorize Kipling's grave warnings about the futility of imperial ambitions in Central Asia. Standing in the aisle as the bus passes Big Ben and heads toward his stop at Downing Street, he offers a verse from Arithmetic on the Frontier, a poem inspired by Britain's experience in Afghanistan: "No proposition Euclid wrote, / No formulae the text-books know, / Will turn the bullet from your coat, / Or ward the tulwar's downward blow / Strike hard who cares - shoot straight who can - / The odds are on the cheaper man." "I have always kept those words in the back of my mind," he said. "You must never start pretending that it's your country, that you are anything other than a guest of the people there." Mr. Ashdown is not by any means a "cheaper man." With lavish estates in the English countryside and on the Adriatic coast of Bosnia, he lives the life of an imperial grandee, although UN officials say that his accommodations in Kabul will have to be far more modest, for security reasons. Bosnians, who watched his often heavy-handed administration for years, sometimes denounce him as just such an overlord. There is worry in some Afghan circles, not to mention in the UN and NATO, that he will be seen not as a uniting force but as a reminder of the country's dark colonial history. But for a man of such imperial bearing, Mr. Ashdown is in many ways the precise opposite: a controversial and outspoken critic of Western arrogance in foreign adventures. As he got dressed for work in the small south London row house he uses on weekdays, knotting his tie and searching for his glasses, Mr. Ashdown spoke frankly of his fears: that Afghanistan has become a disorganized disaster, that we are repeating the worst mistakes of the Balkan Wars, that we are on the verge of a loss that, he has said, would be even more dire than the West's defeat in Iraq. "Our failure relies on the fact that we believe, for some bizarre reason, that we have such a unique system of government in our own countries - by the way, not a view shared by many of our citizens - that we believe we have a right to impose it lock, stock and barrel, along with the values and everything that goes along with it, on other countries with the use of B-52s, tanks and rifles." Not that he is opposed to military forces. He argues strongly that it was the threat of foreign military action,

and the imposition of rules from outside, that brought peace to Northern Ireland, where he served, and a stop to mass killings in the Balkans, where he played key roles in both Bosnia and Kosovo. But he believes that the failure in Afghanistan is far more political than military. "We are losing in Afghanistan - and rather than militarily, we are losing the political mission - and in large part we are losing because there has been a complete failure of the international community to co-ordinate its efforts," he said. For a UN appointee, he is especially harsh on the organization's approach to nation-building. He says that the UN is a very poor manager of military and executive action, and that it functions far better as a subcontractor of national forces and a "legitimizer of international action." And its values, he says, are far too heavily devoted to democracy at any cost. "There is this bizarre idea that the one thing these people are dying for is gender-sensitivity training, human rights in our model and our systems of government," he said. "These guys want something much more simple than that. Look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They want security. Actually, I think democracy is what people choose when they have enough prosperity that they want a system of government that will protect it. The big thing about democracy is not that it's efficient, but that it's the best means of protecting what you have. I think you let them choose what pace they want to do it." This is one of the more controversial aspects of the Ashdown approach, which he has described in detail in his recent book, Swords and Ploughshares: Bringing Peace to the 21st Century. In Bosnia, he did not hesitate to override democracy, using his powers as international overseer to fire elected parliamentarians who held ethnic-nationalist views and to override parliamentary decisions that he deemed damaging to the multi-ethnic society. He says that this is the only thing that works: Pointing to the Balkans and Northern Ireland, he says that local leaders, trapped in the impossible demands of their own people, usually welcome an outsider who can simply impose things. It gives them someone else to blame for something that they actually desired. But, he warns, his position in Afghanistan could become a dismal failure if current levels of support continue. "We are putting into Afghanistan about one-25th the amount of troops per head of population and about one-50th the amount of aid per head of population that we put into Bosnia and Kosovo. I don't think we've ever had a peace stabilization mission that has been so underresourced." For a man so outspoken in his criticisms of both the military and the civilian arms of the West's nationbuilding apparatus, and so pessimistic about Afghanistan's prospects, Mr. Ashdown maintains an overriding faith in the ability of the world's wealthy nations to change troubled countries for the better. "The reality of it is, for all its failures - and Afghanistan and Iraq are particularly painful ones international intervention has halved the number of wars in the world since the end of the Cold War. It's massively reduced the number of war casualties in the world as a consequence. The world would be a much more dangerous place today if we hadn't intervened in many of these places, and in an increasingly interdependent world, it'll be much more dangerous in the future if we now give this up." The 159 Bus had, by this point, passed the Houses of Parliament and cruised along Whitehall, and Mr. Ashdown stepped to the exit in front of Downing Street for a meeting whose subject and participants he could not reveal. With a warm farewell, he passed through the security gates.