U.N. should lead Afghanistan peace effort: Britain

By Patrick Worsnip, Reuters
Britain lobbied U.N. officials on Thursday with a proposal for the world body to lead a comprehensive “campaign plan” for peace in Afghanistan, where NATO-led troops are struggling against Taliban insurgents.

Defense Secretary Des Browne said the United Nations was best placed to coordinate a peace-building effort he said had until now largely fallen on military commanders.

About 40,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan, whose Taliban rulers were overthrown by U.S.-backed forces in 2001. Some 32,000 belong to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), in which Britain plays a prominent role.

But Browne told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that the conflict could not be solved by military means alone and challenges from stamping out narcotics to policing and establishing the rule of law needed a strategic approach.

“An overarching campaign plan is required to develop all these disparate strands together. It has to be a strategic plan, not just a military plan,” he said.

“The international community then needs … to coordinate resources, ensuring coherence in what we do … And this needs leadership. And in my view … there is no organization better placed than the UN to take that role.”

Browne said “a visible leader representing the international community” was also needed.

At present, he said, Afghan President Hamid Karzai spent at least 60 percent of his time in individual meetings with all 42 countries involved in Afghanistan. “If you want to see President Karzai you have to go and join the queue.”

British officials said Browne was meeting on Thursday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ban’s deputy for political affairs Lynn Pascoe, and Jean-Marie Guehenno, head of U.N. peacekeeping.

With a troop contingent rising this year to 7,700, Britain is a leading contributor to ISAF and has taken on much of the fighting against the Taliban.

But the British U.N. approach comes against a background of mounting casualties and apparent rifts among the Western allies over how to defeat the insurgents and win hearts and minds. Germany called last week for a review of the way Western forces operate after a spate of civilian casualties.

Browne offered no details of how the United Nations could take control of the peace effort.

But he said: “If we in the international community cannot find a way … of developing that overarching, politically led campaign plan, then I say to you that we have no moral right to ask our young people to expose themselves to that danger.”

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