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Holbrooke begins 'listening tour'

The special representative launched his three-day visit in Pakistan Tuesday with an aim to 'listen and learn,' but also to urge the US ally to eliminate its militant havens.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 11, 2009

Orientation: Richard Holbrooke listened to Pakistan's foreign minister Tuesday as part of a three-day visit.

Anjum Naveed/AP

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Lahore, Pakistan

Richard Holbrooke, the veteran US diplomat tapped to help stabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan, began his tour of the region in Islamabad Tuesday. The special representative vowed to "listen and learn" as he met with leaders of the US ally, with whom relations have been strained by US concerns that it's not doing enough to stem a growing militancy that is spilling into neighboring Afghanistan and India.

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On Day 1 of Mr. Holbrooke's three-day visit in Pakistan, leaders who met with him – including President Asif Ali Zardari, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani – presented their own concerns over America's approach in the so-called war on terror, particularly its drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

"I am here to listen and learn" in "this critically important country," Holbrooke said in a statement. "The United States looks forward to reviewing our policies and renewing our commitment and friendship with the people of Pakistan."

Holbrooke, who is best known for his part in bringing an end to the Balkans conflict in 1995, arrives in the country at a precarious time. The Pakistani Army is battling militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in the nearby Swat Valley, 100 miles from Islamabad. The fighting could displace as many as 600,000 people within weeks, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.

A slew of kidnappings has underscored Pakistan's deteriorating security situation: On Sunday a video emerged apparently showing the beheading of abducted Polish engineer Piotr Stanczak by Pakistani militants. It was the first execution of a Western hostage since the killing of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, in 2002.