THE best news about Afghanistan for a long time was the Guardian's prediction yesterday that Lord Paddy Ashdown will shortly be appointed as overall coordinator of the military and aid efforts there and take up his duties on January 1. If this is correct it will mean that for the first time the military roles of the US and Nato and the extensive development aid activities of the US and other countries will be looked at as a single strategy instead of as a number of unrelated activities. According to the Guardian report discussions about Ashdown's appointment as a “super-envoy” have been taking place for some time and the outcome is likely to be announced officially next week. Ashdown won Washington's respect for his work as High Representative in Bosnia between 2002 and 2006. Afghanistan's problems are likely to test him even more than those he handled in the Balkans and at 66 he is taking on considerable burden. However, he is likely to relish the challenge. His clear thinking and straight talking are greatly needed to bring cohesion to the military, development and political roles. Of late it has seemed that the US and Nato might prove to be the latest of a long line of outsiders who have left Afghanistan in despair of having any effect there ; Paddy Ashdown will want to ensure that does not happen on his watch.


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