Top official to plan post-Taliban state

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The Independent US

The US has appointed a senior State Department official to oversee efforts to create a stable government inside Afghanistan after military operations end.

Richard Haass, who earlier this year was appointed as the Bush administration's special representative for Northern Ireland, will liaise with Afghanistan's neighbours and with enemies of the ruling Taliban regime.

Mr Haass has already met the former Afghan king, the 87-year-old exiled Mohammed Zahir Shah. There is a hope that Mr Zahir could return to Afghanistan and unite the country behind a temporary coalition in the immediate aftermath of the bombing while a more long-term government is being established.

While Mr Zahir, based in Rome, accepts that he could not lead a future government, he has long dreamt of convening a grand national assembly of tribal elders, clerics, intellectuals and land-owners to discuss a transition.

Mr Haass will relish the challenge to forge a settlement that is both lasting and acceptable to the US, Britain and, importantly, Pakistan.

Pakistan has already voiced its objections to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance taking control of Afghanistan, but Mr Haass will have to ensure that the Northern Alliance, which has been acting as the West's ground troops by proxy, is included in a future government coalition.

Mr Haass, formerly a leading figure at the Brookings Institution think-tank, carries the rank of Ambassador and has worked out of the State Department, where he became director of planning when he was appointed earlier this year by President George Bush.

A former Rhodes scholar at Oxford, Mr Haass is a Middle East specialist. He was a member of the National Security Council under the former president George Bush Snr. Between 1989 and 1993 he was senior director for Near East and south Asian affairs.

In 1991, Brooklyn-born Mr Haass was awarded the Presidential Citizen's Medal for his contributions to the development of US policy after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Previously, he served in various posts in the state and defence departments and was a legislative aide in the Senate.

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