European leaders call for Afghanistan summit

By Liz Stephens

Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have written to the United Nations calling for an international conference to discuss the future of Afghanistan.

The joint letter by the three heads of state, to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon, calls for the summit to take place before the end of the year “right after the inauguration of the new Afghan government”.

However, the timing of the summit may be complicated by the fact that the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission declared yesterday that it had “convincing evidence of fraud” in Afghanistan’s elections and called for a recount in many areas.

It is unclear yet whether this call for a partial recount will overturn Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s significant lead in the polls or lead to a wholly new vote.

A new vote would be difficult to achieve after October when weather conditions will prevent many Afghan citizens from voting.

The letter says: “For the international community alike, this is a natural time to take stock of the progress we have achieved since the first presidential elections and to assess the challenges that still lie ahead.

“At the conference, all those countries and institutions playing a crucial role for the reconstruction, development and stabilisation of Afghanistan should come together.

“We should agree on new benchmarks and timelines in order to formulate a joint framework for our transition phase in Afghanistan, i.e. to set our expectations of ownership and the clear view to hand over responsibility step by step to the Afghans, wherever possible.”

Relations between Afghanistan and the West have been more strained than ever of late following a Nato air strike on Friday, ordered by a German commander, which was said to have killed up to 70 civilians.

A member of UK special forces was killed in Afghanistan yesterday while on a rescue mission to save New York Times journalist Stephen Farrell.

The journalist’s translator, Sultan Munadi, was also killed when he was caught in crossfire with the Taliban during the operation.