Afghanistan and Iraq: Failed States or Failed Wars?

Map of Western Asia

Having assisted in the postwar transitions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, a Director's Visitor at the Institute in 2006-08, spoke in 2007 about the circumstances that led to the current situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He examined the recent history of both countries and offered his perspective on the actions and non-actions that led to the present crises.

"Afghanistan was a largely failed state in the last quarter of 2001, when, immediately after 9/11, the Taliban Administration was routed by the United States-led military intervention and the United Nations brokered a peace process at the Bonn Conference," commented Brahimi. "Today, after a successful initial phase, which went some way towards the restoration of peace and stability, Afghanistan is again struggling with its old demons of internal strife. The Taliban are back and seriously threaten the fragile state being built in Kabul. What happened? What went wrong? Who did what? And who failed to do what?

"Today, the confident promise of a model democracy in a united Iraq, ‘at peace with itself and with its neighbors,' is little more than a mirage in the Mesopotamian desert," Brahimi continued. "The world, meanwhile, continues to struggle with fundamental questions: Why was the country invaded in the first place? And who is/are responsible for the present mess?

"The international community will continue to ignore Afghanistan and fail to help Iraq out of its present tragedy at its peril. What is to be done then? And who should be doing what? That there are no easy answers is no reason not to ask the right questions."

About Lakhdar Brahimi

As Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 2004 through December 2005, Ambassador Brahimi advised Kofi Annan on a wide range of issues, including the prevention and resolution of conflicts. In January 2004, a few months after the assassination of Sergio Vieira de Mello and 22 of his colleagues in Baghdad, Brahimi led the efforts of the United Nations in the early part of the postwar transition in Iraq.

He presided over the UN Bonn Conference on Afghanistan (November-December 2001), which produced the peace agreement now referred to as the Bonn Process, and went on to oversee its implementation as the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) in Kabul during the following two years (2003-04).

Brahimi previously served as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Afghanistan from July 1997 until October 1999. In between his Afghanistan assignments, Brahimi chaired an independent panel, established by Secretary-General Annan, which authored the Brahimi Report on UN Peace Operations in 2000. The acclaimed report assessed the shortcomings of the existing system of peacekeeping and made specific recommendations for change, focusing on politics, strategy and operational and organizational areas of need.