United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has appointed Germany’s Tom Koenigs as his special representative for Afghanistan and Head of the Assistance Mission.
Koenig's appointment is seen as recognition of Germany's role in Afghanistan
The Green party politician replaces French diplomat Jean Arnault, who's held the post since February 2004. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed the appointment and said it is a sign that the United Nations recognizes Germany's peacekeeping and rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan.
Koenigs new job won't be his first at the UN. He headed the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala as a special representative for the secretary general. The mission was established to monitor the peace agreement signed in 1996 between the former parties in the civil war.
Tom Koenigs has vast experience in war-ravaged countries
The 61-year-old also played a key role for the United Nations in Kosovo from 1999 to 2002 where he was responsible for the general civil administration. Despite the extremely difficult situation in strife-ridden Kosovo, Koenigs remained pragmatic while trying to get the province back on its feet.
"We wouldn't be here if there weren't huge problems so we shouldn't be surprised that there’s a lot of work to do," he said at the time. "Everything from providing energy to education needs to be dealt with. But despite this, the people here are optimistic and helping with the reconciliation process is worth it no matter how slow the process is."
Since January he has been Germany's commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid.
Warlords, Taliban, opium trade await
Since crucial UN-sponsored talks in Bonn four years ago, Afghanistan has held presidential elections and sworn in a new parliament. But Koenig's predecessor in Afghanistan has said much still needs to be done.
Afghanistan has enjoyed a taste of democracy in recent months
"The Bonn process has moved forward fairly well ... And frankly political change has taken place and the fact that that has not been accompanied by a decrease in a level of violence poses a certain question," Arnaud said. "We should all sit down, the government of Afghanistan and the international committee and look more closely at these questions."
Koenigs will assume his new post in February, at a critical time for Afghanistan. The government is coming into its own, but the country is wracked by instability and experiences frequent attacks from ousted Taliban militants. The opium trade continues to thrive despite international efforts to quell it, and pressure is high to eradicate the opium poppy fields that provide most of western Europe with its heroin.
Germany has played a major role in helping bring stability to Afghanistan. Of the roughly 9,000 foreign troops that make up the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, around 2,500 are German.
Despite the continuing need for peacekeepers, the relatively successful and peaceful parliamentary elections in September have given observers hope that the country could be on its way to stability.