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US backs Lord Ashdown for Afghanistan role

4th December 2007

The United States is backing Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader who served as the international community's "high representative" in Bosnia, to be the United Nations new "super envoy" to Afghanistan.

The proposed role would see Lord Ashdown being charged with uniting the efforts of both Nato and the UN in Afghanistan. Nato officials are understood to support his candidacy for a job with exceptional power.

"Yes, we are aware that he (Lord Ashdown) has been approached and asked if he will do the job," said one senior Western diplomat in the Afghan capital, Kabul. "This is very much a US-led initiative."

Another diplomat said: "Paddy Ashdown's is the name popping up most frequently within the UN, but it is not being pushed internally within the UN. It is the US and Nato that are pushing it.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman declined to be drawn on Lord Ashdown's possible candidacy, saying: "I think that the appointment of the special representative is one that is in the gift of the UN secretary-general ultimately."

Lord Ashdown did not confirm or deny what he called "press speculation" that he would soon take up the job. But he refrained from saying he was uninterested. "I'm not in the business of turning down jobs I haven't been offered," he said.

The new post would replace the UN's Special Representative to Kabul and Nato's Civilian Representative who both complete their terms on Dec 31.

Lord Ashdown's rivals are believed to include Joschka Fischer and Hikmet Cetin, the former foreign ministers of Germany and Turkey respectively.

Tensions have grown within the international community as it attempts to stabilise Afghanistan.

The revived Taliban insurgency and concerns over spiralling corruption and Afghanistan's burgeoning drugs economy, which could be worth as much as £4 billion, have caused recrimination.

Nato has been particularly stung by criticism from senior UN officials after a spate of air strikes in which Afghan civilians died.

The new "super envoy" would have the same rank as the American and British ambassadors in Afghanistan. He would become the principal contact between President Hamid Karzai and both Nato and the UN.

Officials in the US State Department are believed to be preparing the job's terms of reference.

Afghan officials are anxious about Lord Ashdown's previous experience in Bosnia, where he wielded sweeping powers, including the ability to overrule the country's government. He was occasionally termed the "viceroy".

Lord Ashdown is currently the president of the European Union-Russia Centre, a think tank based in Brussels.

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