UK's Afghanistan envoy Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles steps down

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The UK's special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan has stepped down with immediate effect, the Foreign Office said today.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was appointed in March last year after being UK ambassador in Kabul for two years, had been on "extended leave" from the role since June.

The FCO said it has been agreed that a separate representative is no longer required due to the changing situation - allowing the role to be handled by a policy chief.

Karen Pierce, FCO director for South Asia and Afghanistan, will take it on.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "Sherard has made an invaluable contribution to UK policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. He showed great commitment, dedication and expertise during an important phase in international efforts in the region.

"He has a very able successor in Karen Pierce. Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to be this Government's top priority in foreign affairs."

The FCO said many allies, including the US, combine the representative and policy roles.

No reason was given when Sir Sherard temporarily stepped down in June and at the time the Foreign Office said he was "expected back in the autumn".

But the move came amid media reports that he had clashed with US and Nato officials over strategy.

The Prime Minister's spokesman batted away questions about the reasons for Sir Sherard's departure, saying: "There is no change to the strategy, no change to the policy in any way."