James Forsyth

A minister for Afghanistan?

A minister for Afghanistan?
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The Daily Telegraph reports today that the Tories are thinking about appointing a minister for Afghanistan. The paper says that the “role could be taken by a new appointee possibly a former member of the Armed Forces who would be brought into government by Mr Cameron by making them a peer.”

This idea, however, will only work if the Minister is put in charge of all British government work in Afghanistan. If the Minister’s writ only runs in the Ministry of Defence, the move will only succeed in undermining the Defence Secretary.

What is needed is someone who has the authority to make sure that the military, diplomatic, and development aspects of the mission are working together. There also must be some concern about the minister in charge of an issue of such importance not being accountable to the Commons.

There’s much speculation in policy-circles today about who the Tories might have in mind for this job. Various senior military officials are being tipped for it. But one intriguing possibility is that the job might be offered to Lord Ashdown. Not only does Ashdown have a keen interest in Afghanistan, he was prepared to reprise the role that he had played in Bosnia there, but he has links to the Tories through Ed Llewellyn, Cameron’s chief of staff, who was Ashdown’s chief political adviser in Bosnia.

Certainly, the chance to be Minister for Afghanistan would be more attractive to Ashdown than being Northern Ireland Secretary, the job Gordon Brown offered him. However, Ashdown’s loyalty to the Liberal Democrats and the tense relations between him and Karzai, who effectively vetoed his appointment as the international community’s high representative to Afghanistan, mean that this appointment probably won’t happen. But it is, though, hard to think of someone more qualified for the role than Ashdown.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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