DATE May 2, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Mark Malloch Brown discusses his work in Afghanistan
and the Middle East as part of the UN Development Group
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Mark Malloch Brown, has been leading the UN efforts to fund the
rebuilding of Afghanistan. But in the past few weeks his attention has been
on the Middle East and the need to rebuild in the West Bank and Gaza. Mark
Malloch Brown is the head of the United Nations Development Group, a committee
of the heads of all UN development programs. He's also worked with the UN
high commissioner for refugees and the World Bank. He started his career as a
political correspondent for The Economist magazine. In Afghanistan, the
reconstruction effort isn't just about rebuilding structures; it's also about
creating democracy, security, and even stopping the poppy crops that will be
converted to heroin.
Give us a sense of what needs to be rebuilt in Afghanistan, or perhaps it's
easier to say what doesn't need to be rebuilt.
Mr. MARK MALLOCH BROWN (United Nations Development Program): I was going to
say, everything. This is a country which, you know, even before the civil
war--although Afghans returning from exile have fond memories of cafe life in
Kabul, the capital, and an intellectual and university life, the reality is
that by the numbers this was a very poor country where the majority of Afghans
were living in extreme poverty in the countryside with access to very limited
education, and already an education biased in favor of boys over girls. So 20
years of waves of socialist, Communist control and Islamic control. All these
things have, in a sense, just built on what was already a chronic state of
So it's not repairing what was there before. It's essentially building a
modern nation-state on the foundations of a viable economy which, frankly, has
not existed ever before in modern Afghanistan.
GROSS: I think that one of your jobs has been trying to get different
countries to contribute financially to the rebuilding effort. Yes?
Mr. BROWN: Yes. And it's been pretty successful. I mean, in a month after
the new government took power in Afghanistan last December, we were able to
come to Tokyo and get a really impressive $4 1/2 billion of resources pledged.
Now, of course, the trick is to demonstrate the steady progress on the ground
in Afghanistan which leads to the donors releasing those resources in a timely
way in order to sustain the peace building. So we crossed the first hurdle, a
lot of money pledged quickly, while CNN and NPR were still focused on
Afghanistan. But the next hurdle is--when the media lights are turned off and
the microphones turned off is to go on ensuring a steady level of support, and
that depends on Afghans themselves demonstrating that they're serious about
peace building and that donors' money will be well used.
GROSS: Well, what about the fact that the Bush administration apparently
intends to send troops and bombs to Iraq, probably early next year, in an
attempt to topple Saddam Hussein's regime? How is that affecting countries'
willingness to support the rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan?
Mr. BROWN: Well, I don't think, you know, that the Bush administration has
done a very good job of sharing ownership of the reconstruction effort of
Afghanistan with multilateral organizations such as mine, with other big
donors such as Japan and the European Union nations. The money's pledged, I
think, and therefore, in that sense, it's whether they continue with the
release, and I--you raised the question. I would say at this point that what
is driving donors' willingness to help in Afghanistan is much more--I mean,
how fast they'll turn the tap on of the spigot of releasing assistance is much
more determined by their judgment about security and development performance
inside Afghanistan. At the moment, the Middle East, potentially Iraq--these
are sideline issues.
Their main focus, as far as Afghanistan goes, is is their money being well
used. But, you know, when you ask the hypothetical question, would an
invasion of Iraq distract people from Afghanistan, evidentially yes in that
donors are like the proverbial politicians. They can't chew gum and walk at
the same time. It's tough for them to have too many reconstruction operations
which are demands on their resources and their focus and their leadership at
GROSS: How is your program with the UN trying to reverse the development of
heroin as a cash crop? And...
Mr. BROWN: Well...
GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.
Mr. BROWN: ...beyond our heavy investment in building up a justice and
police system and the functioning institutions of government whose remit can
run across the nation, we're also working with a sister program, the UN drug
control program, to, you know, get into intensive alternative development in
the drug areas. But, you know, one of the unfortunate consequences of the
otherwise happy event, the overthrow of the Taliban, was that in their last
year in power, the Taliban, to and try and repair their relations with the
international community, had actually stopped cultivation of opium for a year,
of poppies. Now this had two effects. One, they didn't destroy the opium
which was in warehouses, so it drove up the street price for that opium, the
demand for that opium, and therefore accelerated the shipment of that across
neighbors' borders into the markets of Europe.
But second, it created much higher potential prices for farmers returning to
poppy cultivation this year. When you combine that with the breakdown of law
and order that occurred with the overthrow of the Taliban in the last months
of last year in the coalition military campaign, it created for small farmers
a window of opportunity to go in and sow again. And it's that crop which is
now being harvested and going to market at a time when the government is not
resourced to really be able to fundamentally crack down on it. So not a good
year on the narcotics front, and I think everybody recognizes it. The
government in Kabul recognizes it. The US, UK governments recognize it. And
we have just got to come down hard on this because, you know, it is the
Achilles' heel of the peace building effort. It would undermine Western
support for what's being done in Afghanistan. It would undermine law and
order internally and, you know, would fundamentally damage the whole
operation. So getting this problem licked is a top priority for all of us.
GROSS: As you work with the UN in trying to rebuild Afghanistan, what country
is the example for you about how not to do it, a country whose rebuilding
efforts ended in further collapse?
Mr. BROWN: The ones which don't succeed are ones like the Democratic
Republic of the Congo or, for quite a while, Sierra Leone, although now the
corner there seems to have happily been turned. But where it fails, it's
largely because the political foundations weren't there. There wasn't the
basic, fundamental commitment by warring political faction leaders, and
beneath that by the population at large, that they'd had enough of war and
were fundamentally committed to peace and to making the concessions that you
have to as a faction make if you are going to live at peace with those you've
been in enmity and war with before.
And it's that overarching commitment to peace which, if you have it in place,
then the rest follows, and where you don't, all the amount of money and help
still defeats it. And I suppose the most dramatic example at the moment is
the Palestinian territories where, you know, the international community has
put in, since the Oslo agreements, literally billions of dollars and we have
been a major player in that along with the World Bank and others. And, you
know, all of us--donors, international organizations--have seen a devastating
destruction of the commitments we made because at the end of the day, the
political process failed, and then all the development resources you throw in
are for naught if the politics falls apart.
GROSS: My guest is Mark Malloch Brown, head of the UN Development Group.
He's working on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. We'll talk about his
efforts in the Middle East after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Mark Malloch Brown is my guest. He's the head of the UN Development
Program. He organized the UN reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
Now you're working in the Middle East and the rebuilding of the Palestinian
Authority. What's the mission there?
Mr. BROWN: Well, I think it's--you know, in the first few weeks, it was the
humanitarian mission. I have a large operation based in Jerusalem and Gaza
City which has excellent relationships with the Palestinian Authority, but
also very long-standing and very good relations with the Israeli government.
But now we've moved on from that humanitarian activity to what we look at as
our niche as a development agency and have returned to, basically, the three
things that we were doing in the early '90s when the Palestinian Authority was
established, which is to see what we can do to restore the institutions of
that authority and the Palestinian territories. Because if the Palestinian
institutions remain decimated, as they have been in recent weeks, there is
never going to be the capacity to implement any future political agreements.
So getting the authority's institutions going again is our number-one
The second is working with other parts of the UN on unexploded ordinance
issues. We have a large landmine clearance operation in UNDP. It's working
full tilt in Afghanistan and many other countries in the world. We now have
to send that capacity into parts of the Palestinian territories because
unexploded landmines are--or ordinance, in this case, rather; there are no
land minds--is, you know, an absolute blow at peace.
The third issue is we've spent a lot of money and effort building
infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza to contribute to its economic
development, and a lot of that infrastructure's been damaged. Some of it was
key things like getting the capacities of the airport in Gaza City going.
Others were key cultural issues, like restoring old Bethlehem. All of that
also equally needs repair and reinvestment if, again, Palestinian pride and
culture is to be restored. And, you know, we are not a political institution;
we're a development institution. We leave the politics to others. But, you
know, what we do know is no peoples or territories can develop and live up to
the ambition of Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush, as much as
Palestinian leaders, for a Palestine to be able to live side by side with
Israel--we'll never get to that point if there are not the functioning
institutions and the buildings and the communities that a nation needs. So we
have a huge task ahead of us.
GROSS: How much does the achievement of your task and rebuilding the West
Bank and Gaza and rebuilding the Palestinian Authority depend on the fate of
Mr. BROWN: Well, you know, I have visited Yasser Arafat several times in
Gaza City, and have spent a lot of time with him and his lieutenants, you
know, in the different projects there. And, you know, as I say, I'm the
simple development guy; I'm not the political voice of the UN on this. But,
you know, the Palestinian Authority, which he leads, is the indispensable
center of the political economy of the region--I mean of the territories, and,
you know, at this point, he's the guy we're working with, and it's his
authority which, you know, remains the controller of the set of now destroyed,
but nevertheless the institutions which must serve the people if there is to
be any, you know, institutional organizational structure in the territories.
GROSS: Now what about the issue of terrorism? I know you're the development
arm, you're not the political arm, of the UN. Nevertheless, if it's true that
Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have either been allowing terrorism to
happen or actually funding terrorists, how would that affect your view of the
Palestinian Authority and your interest in rebuilding it?
Mr. BROWN: You know, terrorism is a threat to development as much as it is
to politics and, you know, I've made it clear to governments everywhere that
we will support them in strengthening their capacity to combat terrorism,
whether it's in their banking laws, their capacities to run their justice
systems, their policing systems. I'm not afraid of touching any of those
issues because while they might seem political, they're at the heart of the
development challenge, because if citizens are not safe from terrorism, they
are not going to enjoy the kind of benefits of development that we are looking
for for them.
GROSS: So what do you do with a governing body where it's ambiguous whether
they're combatting or supporting terrorism?
Mr. BROWN: Well, we at the end of the day feel development is not
sustainable if you don't have democratic accountable institutions, and the
fact is the political evolution of the Palestinian Authority has been
thoroughly constrained and impeded by the fact that it's an authority leading
a peoples who believe themselves to be at war, and therefore it has not
subjected itself to the tests of democratic re-election and the kind of trust
and development of accountability between Palestinians and authority that
comes from the peaceful, healthy evolution of institutions. And that troubles
me a lot.
So I can tell you that we have a very--we're not blind followers of countries'
development priorities and looking the other way on their political evolution.
We believe accountable democratic institutions are critical, but we equally
believe in this region that they're very hard to achieve without a resolution
of the Israeli-Palestinian issue because that's the great roadblock to
institutional and political evolution in the Palestinian territories and,
frankly, more broadly in the region as a whole.
GROSS: As the head of the UN Development Program, you're doing a lot of
global work, you know, global fund raising, global development, and in some
circles the word `global' has become a real dirty word, as I'm sure you're
aware. So what are some of the things you feel you're up against now, now
that a lot of people think of global as being a bad thing?
Mr. BROWN: Yeah, I know they do, but, you know--and this may therefore sound
like a wacky answer, but, you know, I've been in and out of the UN during my
adult life, and, you know, when I first, leaving graduate school in the
mid-'70s, went to work as an intern in the UN, my colleagues were heading off
to investment banks and service in, you know, their own national governments,
thought that I was a bit of a Don Quixote, going to work for these
broken-backed international organizations.
You know, I now feel I was right because I think we are on the verge, on the
edge of a new era of global cooperation, one which is not coming out of a kind
of great wave of Woodrow Wilson-like naive enthusiasm for this, but rather out
of the fundamental, pragmatic recognition in the post-September 11th world
that our fates as a world community are intertwined, that terrorism left
unaddressed in Afghanistan has a terrible habit of ending up on our front
doorsteps, as it did on September the 11th; that HIV-AIDS, uncombatted in
sub-Saharan Africa as now a disease of young women and of heterosexuals, is
coming back into our inner cities here in America at accelerated infection
rates; that immigration problems caused by development failure and the failure
to create jobs in the great booming countries that border the European
community is turning into illegal immigration flows into Germany, France, the
UK, which are bitterly affecting national politics, allowing a Monsieur Le
Pen, a Fascist candidate, to make it into the second round of the French
And as, you know, moderates everywhere deal with this, from President Bush to
his democratic colleagues and opponents in the Senate and the House and
potential presidential opponents, everybody is recognizing that a foreign
policy which assumes that America is a fortress island, or that Europe can be
a fortress island, is just certainly not plausible in terms of managing
America's relations with the world, but is no longer even a plausible strategy
for a presidential campaign. Mark my words, in two years' time, you're going
to see two presidential candidates who get the names right of Central Asian
presidents, because this is a new world out there, and it's a world where all
of our safeties in our own neighborhoods depend on safety in the neighborhoods
of Afghanistan or southern Africa. And we're going to have a class of
politicians who have to address that, and that's going to be an extraordinary
moment of renewal for the UN agencies of which I'm part.
GROSS: Well, Mark Malloch Brown, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. BROWN: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Mark Malloch Brown is the head of the UN Development Group. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, Jeff Tweedy, founder of the band Wilco. He'll
perform a couple of songs, and we'll hear music from their new CD, "Yankee
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