Subject: Newsweek: de Mello on Afghanistan and East Timor

How To Put The Pieces Together Winning was easy. To rebuild Afghanistan, the world must stay the course

By Sergio Vieira De Mello


Dec. 17 issue — Afghanistan may seem a long way from places like Kosovo and East Timor—culturally as well as geographically. But having been involved in United Nations-led efforts to rebuild both those tiny, war-torn territories, I can see one key similarity, perhaps the most critical factor in any post-conflict society. At a certain point the people of a country who have experienced turmoil for too long tell their leaders, loud and clear, that this must now come to an end. They reach a nearly unanimous rejection of violence, war and conflict. They abjure the policies that led to their suffering. The people themselves become peacemakers’ greatest ally. I hope that moment has arrived in Afghanistan.

AT THE SAME time, several other conditions need to be met if Afghanistan is to emerge as a functioning, viable state. The greatest threat to nation-building is hatred. Intolerance, on the one hand, and the selfish concerns of individual players—warlords, really—can doom any attempt to forge a sense of shared nationality (as Afghans know better than anyone). Continued rivalries and thoughts of vengeance could shatter this fragile opportunity. I have been telling the Timorese for a long time that the best way to erode the support East Timor has enjoyed worldwide is for them to start fighting each other again. If you burn a house, if you burn a school, if you harm one another, why would donors continue to funnel money to you? Why would a foreign investor bring his money here?

Restoring law and order is crucial. The free-for-all in which every citizen faces the threat of arbitrary violence must be brought to an end—and that requires the presence of international peacekeepers. Only a strong, well-equipped outside force will have the credibility to deter combatants from resuming petty feuds, and the ability to ensure that aid and aid dollars go where they are meant to go. Unless you can impose order, you cannot begin to rebuild. All else rests on that foundation.

Afghanistan’s neighbors must help by breaking their 20-year habit of interfering in its politics. The international community can do a lot, and will. But Afghanistan must be allowed to seek its own stability and fortune—not serve as a pawn for countries looking to solidify their own strategic positions. The best defense against such interference, of course, is the kind of broad-based, inclusive government that the United Nations has promoted and all parties now agree needs to be formed. That way all the relevant actors can feel their interests will be represented in Kabul.

Those international administrators involved directly in repairing Afghanistan’s institutions and infrastructure must also not overreach. If there is one lesson to be learned from the United Nations’ previous attempts at nation-building, it is to include national political figures and parties. Be as inclusive as circumstances permit. Whatever mandate you are given by the Security Council must be shared with Afghan leaders themselves. If those representatives are not consulted every step of the way—indeed, if they do not lead the process of reconstruction—then those who have come to help will come to be seen as invading interlopers.

The world’s greatest responsibility, though, is simply to stay involved. The energy and enthusiasm that countries are showing for helping Afghanistan cannot be allowed to wane after the shooting stops, or even after most Afghans are fed and housed. Otherwise the process could easily derail. Look at Sudan in the 1970s: we paid little attention to that peace process two or three years after it got underway. Sudan plunged back into civil war and has been at war ever since. If you want to remove the cancer that is conflict, you have to do it through long-term therapy. Don’t treat the patient when he is in critical condition and then abandon him when he is convalescing. See it through!

That applies to everyone. The United States has in recent times expressed a reluctance to engage in nation-building, and indeed there’s no need for a single country to take the lead after the military phase is over. But as in any other income in the last 20 years, with manufactured exports accounting for most of this growth.

Yet many remain left out. Some by the non-poor makes matters worse. Improvements in international and national policies and institutions would help integrate tide a haven for terrorists. That knowledge argues for strong U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, as in the Balkans and East Timor, until the job is finished. Neither the American nor the Afghan people deserve anything less.

Vieira De Mello, United Nations transitional administrator in East Timor, has served in U.N. humanitarian and peacekeeping operations for more than 30 years, most recently in Cambodia, Bosnia, Africa’s Great Lakes region and Kosovo.

Back to December menu

World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from