Over and over again during the past eight years, the United States and its allies have been on the lookout for that one "big idea" -- the silver bullet program or institution -- that can make the war in Afghanistan work. Over and over, they have invested all their energy and hopes in the idea's pursuit. And time and again, they have been disappointed as Afghan realities intervene to frustrate success.
Now, there's another big idea in the offing: to install an international high representative in Kabul in hopes of coordinating a stronger international position vis-à-vis Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government. Another, unstated reason for the proposal is perhaps to circumvent Kai Eide, the United Nations' outgoing point man in Afghanistan, whom some in the U.S. administration are said to view as ineffective.
In October, I resigned from my position as a political affairs officer at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan over policy differences with its leadership mostly concerning our handling of the election debacle. But I continue to believe that the U.N. mission is the best and only way to coordinate international support to Afghanistan. This latest magic trick won't work any better than the last one. In fact, it may even be worse.
The idea of a high representative has been floated for a number of years. The logic is that the "light footprint" strategy pursued by the international community for the first few years after the fall of the Taliban, including the accelerated sovereignty of Afghanistan thereafter, was a mistake. While not assuming any executive powers, the high representative would signal a more critical and conditional relationship between the international community and the Afghan government.
The first and most obvious question to be asked is what and whom a high representative would represent. There are already several multilateral entities in Afghanistan. In addition to the United Nations and the local offices of its many agencies, Kabul hosts the European Union, European Commission, and NATO civilian representatives. Then there are the embassies, the U.S. Embassy being by far the largest. Coordinating positions among these various stakeholders is difficult enough. Anyone who has tried would no doubt tell you that what's needed are fewer multilaterals, not more.