Bid to resolve stalemate on UN envoy

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The Independent Online

The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is to hold talks in London with the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, today in an attempt to overcome bitter policy recriminations among Allied forces in Afghanistan.

They also hope to make progress in the search for a proposed UN envoy, after the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, blocked the appointment of Lord Ashdown as a "super envoy". The Nato mission in Afghanistan is facing major problems with member countries at odds with each other; Afghan forces nowhere near ready to take over security, and Mr Karzai having little control over swathes of his country, an influential think-tank said.

"This lack of coherence bedevils many aspects of the campaign and further undermines President Karzai's authority," said the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in its annual publication, The Military Balance. "The formal willpower of the international community to stay the course is regularly expressed, but there is both a worrying fragility to that consensus and increasingly public debate between the Afghan government and members of the military coalition as to the best strategies to pursue."

Colonel Christopher Langton, a senior analyst with the IISS, said the international community must allow Mr Karzai's government to be empowered when it has, at times, been "led by the nose". He pointed out that Nato forces had organised "deals" with Taliban representatives, but when Mr Karzai tried to come to a similar arrangement, " he was publicly criticised by the US, that sort of thing does not help".

A UN official said that the West and the Karzai government had gone "back to the drawing board" to find an international envoy.

Diplomats said that the US was cool to Mr Karzai's preference for Turkey's Hikmet Cetin, Nato's former senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, and there does not seem to be a consensus on the Norwegian candidate Kai Eide, a senior diplomat. The British general John McColl, who had also been mentioned by Mr Karzai, is understood not to be in the running. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is continuing to make soundings.

Meanwhile the region, as well as areas further afield, faces the threat from the Pakistani neo-Taliban, which has grown into one of the world's most dangerous terrorist groups. Nigel Inkster, an analyst on counter-terrorism and international crime with the IISS, said Baitullah Mehsud, who according to the Pakistani government was responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, has sent operatives to Britain and Spain to carry out attacks.

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