Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why Karzai Nixed Paddy Ashdown

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's refusal to accept Paddy Ashdown as "High Representative" overseeing foreign support for the country needs more of an explanation than it has received in mainstream media. Ashdown is always described as a "British politician" on the strength of his leadership of the rump Liberal Democrats, but his background is much more interesting.

Jeremy John Durham Ashdown (dubbed "Paddy" by English schoolmates) was born in colonial India in 1941 in a traditionally military family. His father, a captain in the 14th Punjab Regiment, left India in 1945 to settle in Northern Ireland as a farmer. Paddy joined the Royal Marines after high-school in England. From the Marines he graduated to the Foreign Service and postings, reportedly as an operative of MI-6, Britiain's external spy service, to Hong Kong (where he learned to speak Mandarin), and Geneva. After resigning from the Foreign Service he worked for arms manufacturer Westlands (which was, for a while, part of US defense contractor Sikorsky).

Ashdown entered politics as a member of the Liberal Party, later the Liberal Democrats, of which he became the leader. His main claim to political fame was the 1992 revelation of a nine-month affair with his secretary, which earned him the nickname "Paddy Pantsdown" from Britain's ever ribald tabloids. After quitting politics in 1999 he was made Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon in 2000, and appointed High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2002. Two months before that appointment he told the International Criminal Court in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic that in June 1998 he had been at Junik on the Kosovo-Albanian border, and had seen through binoculars the shelling of several villages by Serbian forces; the defense then presented photographs showing that heavily wooded hills lay between Junik and the villages in question, making his claim impossible. Ashdown countered by producing coordinates of a position from which he could have seen the villages.

The appointment of a British political/intelligence operative to a post combining the authority of the United Nations, the European Union and NATO, at a time when some 90 per cent of the country's administrative and development budget is drawn from foreign aid, would have made Karzai a political cypher. Perhaps more importantly, the appointment would have done nothing to improve the situation in Afghanistan. Neither the corruption in government nor the Taliban insurrection is responsive to more coherent administration of foreign support; both would become far worse if such coherence came to be applied to political manipulation and control.

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