Q&A | Diplomat discusses Afghanistan

Lord “Paddy” Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon came across the pond to spend two days at Yale before heading to New York to discuss the situation in Afghanistan with United States special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. Ashdown was elected to the House of Commons in Britain’s Parliament in 1979 and became leader of the Liberal Democrats Party in 1988. Following his time in parliament, he served as high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006. Ashdown, who will deliver a lecture, “Coffee (or tea!) and (British) Politics,” at Luce Hall and a Pierson College master’s tea Tuesday, sat down with staff reporter Rachel Wang for an interview on Monday.

Q: Can you talk a little about your autobiography that is coming out soon and the thoughts or processes behind writing it?

Eminent British politician Lord “Paddy” Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon speaks in Luce Hall yesterday.
Frank Teng
Eminent British politician Lord “Paddy” Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon speaks in Luce Hall yesterday.

A: There is a theme to many lives. And [I see it] in the very first chapter, where I am at a track in Bosnia, going to one of the death camps. Suddenly my first-ever memory floods back and I am 4 years old and I am coming down with my mother from the northern frontier, going through a station, and the station is carpeted with dismembered bodies during the Partition riots, when the Muslims and Hindus were killing each other. And this, even in childhood, is about sectarian divide and conflict. And looking back, this is sort of the subterranean stream that runs through my life, the theme of conflict. How it breaks this fragile thing we call civilization, and the things that happen after it, has always been a puzzle to me.

Q: Do you feel Kosovo’s recent secession from Serbia will affect the tentative situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

A: No. I wrote a joint paper with [Vice President] Joe Biden to both our governments stating that Belgrade couldn’t govern Kosovo again. So, in my view, what happened in Kosovo had to happen. There are times in history when one country behaves towards a minority in that country [in a way] which denies them the moral and practical right to govern that country. And that is what Milosevic did in Kosovo. So my view was, and Joe’s view was, that we should have recognized that earlier rather than let it drag on.

Q: How stable do you feel the peace is in Bosnia?

A: I think it’s possible to have an absence of peace and an absence of war. My hope was for Bosnia to establish a stable and enduring peace. Unfortunately, over the last two years, things have been allowed to go backwards. And the international community, in my opinion, is to blame. Above all, the European Union allowed it to happen.

So if you ask me, will Bosnia return to war? My answer is, probably not. But the bigger issue is if Bosnia becomes another Cyprus. Divided. Unresolved. A black hole of dysfunctionality and potential conflict right in the middle of Europe. That’s the danger.

Q: What are some lessons we could learn from Bosnia and Herzegovina that we could use in Iraq or Afghanistan?

A: One: You have to have unity of command. What I did in Bosnia is create a single plan with a single voice. In Afghanistan we’re all over the place; everyone has different views on the situation.

Second: You can’t build peace in a single country, and Obama and Holbrooke understand this. You have to bring in the neighbors. Richard Holbrooke, who designed the Dayton Agreement for Bosnia, included Serbia and Croatia in the process. In Afghanistan, you must see this in a regional context that includes Israel and Palestine.

Q: President Obama recently announced that he is sending more troops into Afghanistan. Do you feel this is a good idea?

A: I think more troops is necessary but not sufficient. We need a plan that gives politics primacy, not just concentrating on killing the enemy. I think I see that in Obama’s plan.

But to be blunt, if we keep going in Afghanistan as we have, success is not the likely outcome. If we want victory in Afghanistan, this is the last chance.

Q: You were recently named to the position of U.N. special envoy in Afghanistan, but President Karzai vetoed your candidacy. What happened there?

A: I made it clear from the start that I would only do this if the Afghan government agreed, and [former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice] told me that Karzai was very keen on me to do it. Even the U.N. secretary general told me that Karzai wanted me to do it. So it was clear and evident that Karzai changed his mind.

As to why, Karzai is a politician and he needed the Pashtun vote to win the presidential election. He knew that my priority would have been to attack corrupt structures. And the warlords he would have depended on to get the Pashtun vote didn’t like that I would be attacking these structures.

Q: Do you regret withdrawing your name from the position?

A: Not at all. I didn’t want to do it in the first place, because in truth, I believed a solution couldn’t be done. I didn’t want to end my career in failure.

But I didn’t think I could say no if young Marines were being sent out without a choice. Now my wife has a picture of President Karzai on her fridge and she says “thank you” and “good morning” to him every day.

Q: Are you going to be involved in Afghanistan, then?

A: No. I might maintain an interest, but I won’t interfere.

Q: If not you, who do you see leading this effort toward political unity in Afghanistan?

A: Richard Holbrooke’s bullying nature is exactly what we need to bash heads together and get work done. The U.S. must take the lead, but it has to realize this is a multilateral effort, not a unilateral one. And it has to realize this requires speaking to some unpleasant people, particularly in Iran.

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