Ashdown hits Afghan snag

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The Independent Online

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai is blocking the appointment of Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader and Bosnia "super-envoy", as senior United Nations representative in his country. His resistance to outside pressure parallels that of neighbouring leader, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, who is visiting Britain this weekend.

The US has backed Lord Ashdown as a "suitable candidate" to improve co-ordination of aid and military assistance to Afghanistan, but emphasised that the choice was up to President Karzai and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. Mr Karzai has been suspicious of the Briton's demands for wider powers, however, and demanded clarification of his role earlier last week. In the Swiss resort of Davos, where both he and Mr Ban were last week, the Afghan leader also criticised the "failure" of British and US troops in southern Afghanistan.

President Musharraf, who meets Gordon Brown in Downing Street tomorrow, is expected to take an equally robust attitude to Western fears of instability in his country after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Speaking in London on Friday, he insisted the postponed election on 18 February would be free and fair, Pakistan's nuclear weapons were safe from extremists and his forces did not need outside help against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.

* A US aid worker, wearing a burqa, was kidnapped from her car by gunmen in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan yesterday.

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