Afghan expert sent to reopen British embassy

War on Terrorism: Diplomacy
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The Independent Online

The man regarded as the Foreign Office's premier expert on Afghanistan is on his way to Kabul to reopen the British embassy after more than 10 years.

Stephen Evans, 51, expects to arrive in the Afghan capital at the weekend with a small team of staff. For security reasons, no details have been divulged of the timing of his journey or the route he will take, but he is expected to fly in a military plane, with a contingent of bodyguards.

Mr Evans is currently head of the South Asia department at the Foreign Office, responsible for a region that includes India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He said his appointment was the "the beginning of a long-term re-engagement at the political level in Afghanistan", and he would work with non-Taliban factions to encourage them to move quickly "towards the transition to a broad-based, representative administration".

The move is part of the international effort to fill the power vacuum in Kabul created by the sudden departure of the Taliban.

Mr Evans's combination of expertise in the military, languages and central Asian politics will be crucial in helping non-Taliban forces form a government. He will be accompanied by a senior official from the Department for International Development who will help the people of Afghanistan rebuild state institutions and make best use of aid deliveries.

The British mission will take over what remains of the splendid compound built by Lord Curzon in the 1920s. The main building was burnt down after being transferred to the Pakistanis in 1995, but the hospital compound nearby is kept up by a small number of Afghan staff, who have protected it since the Taliban took over the city.

Mr Evans has served previously in South-east Asia, and was counsellor at the embassy in Islamabad in the mid-Nineties. He has experience in the United Nations and Afghanistan, where he was seconded as a UN military observer between 1996 and 1997, and with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Before joining the Diplomatic Service, he was an army officer. He has been heading the Afghan emergency unit set up in Whitehall shortly after the 11 September attacks.

Mr Evans travels with the authority of the Prime Minister, who personally asked him to install himself as the first British ambassador to Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

He will also probably finalise details for the deployment of British troops. A force of up to 4,000 is on stand-by for dispatch to Afghanistan any day now.