In what is expected to be a beefed-up role, Mark Sedwill's job will be to prevent duplication of effort among civilian aid agencies on the ground.
The diplomat will work closely with the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal as part of a plan to raise the profile and efficiency of non-military efforts alongside the expanding military operation.
He will also be expected to coordinate with Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, who reacted angrily to the leak of a US diplomatic cable on Tuesday. The New York Times reported that US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry urged against the current US troop surge to Afghanistan in a cable last November. In part, he wrote: "President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner. The proposed counterinsurgency strategy assumes an Afghan political leadership that is both able to take responsibility and to exert sovereignty in the furtherance of our goal... yet Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development."
Speaking from Istanbul, Karzai told reporters that: "If partnership means submission to the American will, then, of course, it's not going to be the case... But if partnership means cooperation between two sovereign countries, one of course very poor and the other very rich,... then we are partners."
In addition to his coordination role, his responsibilities will include overseeing efforts by the Afghan government to attract low and middle-ranking Taliban fighters back to civilian life with offers of jobs and money.
A report in the London Times claimed that Mr. Eikenberry wanted the position but it was decided that this would place the US in too dominant a position across the international effort.
The suggestion that appointing a Briton would make a major difference was disputed by Amalendu Misra, an expert in South Asia at Lancaster University and the author of Afghanistan: The Labyrinth of Violence.
“There is an equal degree of hostility when it comes to the US and Britain so perhaps it would have made more sense for someone to have been appointed from another body, like the UN, or from another NATO member,” Dr. Misra said.
Nevertheless, he stressed that there had long been a need for the appointment of an overall official with real power to direct the non-military work of the 43 nations involved in the NATO-led operation, adding: “At the beginning it was working OK. The Japanese were busy with reconstruction in some areas for example, the Italians were looking after law elsewhere, and so on. So that division of labor was working fairly well.”
“But now after that initial phase there is a greater degree of complexity and there are absolute overlaps in much of (the) civilian agency-led reconstruction work."
The senior United Nations official in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, recently claimed that civilian-military provincial reconstruction teams were not working on the priorities of the Afghan government. Aid agencies have meanwhile complained that too much aid goes to areas where troops are located, or that it is being deployed as part of the counterinsurgency strategy.
The appointment comes as London prepares to host a major international conference Thursday aimed at cementing a strategy to secure Afghanistan’s future.
Sedwill will take up his new responsibilities after the conference, succeeding Fernando Gentilini of Italy, who was the fourth NATO civilian representative in Kabul.
Britain’s Foreign Minister, David Miliband, said in a statement that Sedwill would be responsible for ensuring co-ordination between the political and military aspects of the alliance's work with the government of Afghanistan.
"This co-ordination, which we will be discussing later this week at the London conference, is an essential component to delivering a comprehensive strategy and ensuring success in Afghanistan," he added.