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UK Diplomat Assesses Afghanistan Reconstruction


Lord Ashdown, thanks so much for being with us.

PADDY ASHDOWN: My privilege, Scott.


SIMON: Do you have any idea why the appointment fell through?

ASHDOWN: Some of them has said to me, Scott, that this may have been something to do with the fact that I had a certain reputation in Bosnia, the tackling corruption and organized crime and there may be some in Afghanistan who wouldn't have welcomed an energetic approach on those in Afghanistan, but I think that's speculation. I think it's mostly to do with internal politics.

SIMON: You've met President Karzai as I recall.

ASHDOWN: Yeah, I met him, gone over it with him, wished him well. He has a very tough and difficult job to do. I admire him for his tenacity and I recognize just how difficult and delicate that job is. So he expressed what he believed to be in the best interest of his people, and I have no complaint about that.

SIMON: How difficult is it to make an appointment of the kind that you were on the verge of holding? Is it - as a politician, can you help us appreciate all the different things that have to be balanced?


ASHDOWN: So it's a pretty chaotic system, and by the way, very, very frequently ends up with the wrong person in the wrong job. We tend to choose people who are diplomats, whereas this is quintessentially a political kind of operation. I cannot imagine a more chaotic, silly, disorganized and unhelpful way of choosing important people for important jobs.

SIMON: Is the world paying enough attention to Afghanistan?

ASHDOWN: So it's very serious. I think the United States takes it seriously. I think Britain takes it seriously. I think a number of other nations take it seriously, but judging by the lack of contribution and sometimes the lack of ability to get your troops to do difficult things, which some countries involved in Afghanistan have shown, I'm not sure they take it seriously, even if they know it's important.

SIMON: Let me get just your thoughts on something very specific. As you know, and you alluded to it, there's a debate going on in Canada, where some people in Canada want their troops to remain just as long as they don't have to, you know, fight anybody. They want them to be in a non-combat role. Is that practical?

ASHDOWN: I understand how some people think that this - it would be much better if only soldiers would deal with the soft power elements of this and not risk their lives, but that can't be done. They have to be prepared to do both of those jobs, and it takes the most-skilled soldiers to do it. By the way, those include Canadian soldiers, who are extremely good at this. I think they include the British. I think - I'm certain they include the United States, and I think there are other nations, as well, who are good. The Dutch are very good. But some are considerably less good at doing this very difficult job.

SIMON: One last question as we close, Lord Ashdown, having been the special representative in charge of Bosnia, are you pleased about Kosovo independence?

ASHDOWN: If it'd happened earlier, there'd have been less mischief made from it. It is the only solution that could've happened. I think there will be some bumpy times ahead, but in my view they will not be seriously bumpy, and they probably won't last very long. It should've happened earlier, Scott. That's the big thing.

SIMON: Paddy, thanks so much.

ASHDOWN: Pleasure, nice to be with you.

SIMON: Lord Paddy Ashdown speaking from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.