ISLAMABAD: The US troubleshooter on Afghanistan and Pakistan pledged to forge a new strategy and urge allies to do more in the war against Islamist insurgents on a maiden visit Monday to the war-torn region.
Richard Holbrooke, considered a hard-hitting diplomat and the architect of peace in Bosnia, has been tasked with implementing an integrated US strategy toward Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. US President Barack Obama has called Afghanistan the main front in the “war on terror” and plans to send a further 30,000 troops, doubling the US military contingent fighting a Taleban-led insurgency alongside 50,000 NATO troops.
Holbrooke will hold top-level talks before “reporting back” to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama. “I am here to listen and learn the ground realities of this critically important country,” Holbrooke was quoted as saying in a US Embassy statement upon arrival in Islamabad last evening.
“The United States looks forward to reviewing our policies and renewing our commitment and friendship with the people of Pakistan,” he added. Holbrooke flew into strained ties between Islamabad and Washington, marked by US missile strikes within Pakistan and US criticism that Pakistan is not doing enough to eradicate Islamist “safe havens” on its territory.
Pakistan, reeling from attacks that have killed more than 1,500 people in 20 months and whose weak civilian government is deeply concerned about a worsening domestic backlash over missile strikes, has welcomed a policy review. “It is Pakistan’s endeavor to develop a fresh perspective on issues of peace, security, stability and the development of the region and in particular address the issues of militancy, terrorism and extremism effectively, by adopting a comprehensive and holistic strategy,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Holbrooke’s mission will be further complicated by escalating tensions between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks, which New Delhi has blamed on Pakistan-based militants. He will meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Qureshi and senior military commanders before leaving on Thursday.