UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief named a veteran Swedish diplomat on Wednesday to serve as the next top U.N. official in Afghanistan, a day ahead of a 60-nation conference in London on the nation's future.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that Staffan de Mistura, the former U.N. representative in Iraq, will succeed Kai Eide of Norway and become the top United Nations envoy in Afghanistan starting on March 1.
"He has been working in many difficult and dangerous posts," Ban said of de Mistura in an AP interview. "He has a wealth of experience and wisdom, and he knows a lot of leadership in Afghanistan. Therefore, I'm sure that he can be a very effective leader in Afghanistan."
Ban's announcement was timed to precede Thursday's conference to discuss a plan for getting Western countries out of Afghanistan. U.S. and NATO forces have been taking increasing casualties from a resurgent Taliban, and are trying to shift more of the burden onto Afghans by speeding up the training of the Afghan army and paramilitary national police.
Much of the focus will be on a $500 million plan to provide jobs and other economic incentives to Taliban fighters and lure them away from the insurgency – a goal that Ban said he supports.
"They should renounce their positions. They should lay down their arms and they should cut their ties with al-Qaida," Ban said. "When they are ready to show their genuine commitment to work together with the Afghan government, for their own society, then I think the international community should favorably consider (them)."
The United Nations on Wednesday revoked asset-freezing orders and travel bans on five former Taliban officials, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been pressing for as part of his effort to draw them back into the fold. None of the five is believed active in the Taliban.
Western officials said the reintegration plan would not involve cash handouts to insurgents, but be focused on providing housing and jobs in the nation's growing security forces.
Eide's rocky two-year tenure overseeing the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan was marked by a fraud-marred national election and a deadly Taliban attack on U.N. employees. The U.N. mission suffered from a pre-dawn assault Oct. 28 on a Kabul guesthouse where dozens of U.N. staffers lived. Five U.N. workers were among those killed in the attack, which prompted the U.N. to relocate hundreds of employees, some outside Afghanistan.
Eide's stewardship also was tarnished by allegations from his American deputy, Peter Galbraith, that he was not bullish enough in curbing fraud in the August presidential election. Karzai was declared the winner three months later after his last remaining challenger dropped out of a runoff.
Eide has said that the controversy over the election was not linked to his decision to leave.
The challenge for de Mistura will be to restructure the civilian side of the international mission during the Obama administration's military strategy of sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Eide has proposed better coordinating the civilian effort under the U.N. umbrella.
The U.N. chief said he expects the conference to provide "a clearer picture for support of the Afghan government" in exactly how it plans to help bring peace, stability and economic development there.
"At the same time we expect the new Afghan government to come out with a strong compact for governance, addressing corruption, and promoting political reconciliation among its people," Ban said. "In the longer term, the basic principle is we need to give more authority to the Afghan government."