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Richard Holbrooke often struggled to be heard on Pakistan and Afghanistan

Richard Holbrooke's struggle to be heard amid competing US voices in the region has some suggesting that the office of special envoy should be shut down.

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However, it appears the Obama administration intends to keep the office of special envoy, naming Frank Ruggiero, a lesser-known diplomat but one with experience navigating the civilian-military divide in Afghanistan, as his successor.

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'An odd man out'

Gen. Hamid Gul, the retired director of Pakistan’s ISI spy agency, also saw differences between Holbrooke, the US Embassy in Islamabad, and the Pentagon. The US Embassy cables from Pakistan released by WikiLeaks never mention Holbrooke, he points out, while the Pakistani military was already used to dealing with Pentagon leaders – and continued to do so.

“Basically, I think he was an odd man out,” says Gul.

Holbrooke's role came as a disappointment from the beginning in Pakistan, Gul adds, because it was originally supposed to include India – and, thereby, encompass the Kashmir conflict.

“He was a truncated envoy without Kashmir, we know it very well that the road to Kabul goes through Srinigar,” Gul says, referencing the Kashmir city controlled by India.

The scope of Holbrooke’s portfolio seemingly pleased no one. While hawks like Gul were upset with the dropping of India, military skeptics like Ahmed were unhappy with the binding of Afghanistan and Pakistan within US diplomacy.

Some Pakistani democracy advocates do credit Holbrooke as a strong voice of support for civilian – not military – government in Pakistan.

“I think this is something [Holbrooke] took from the political leadership in this country and had been able to lobby for” in Washington, says Muddassir Rizvi, national coordinator of the Free & Fair Election Network in Pakistan.

“He did not come and make huge big statements, unlike past US secretaries,” says Mr. Rizvi. “He would employ a persuasive approach that may take months, that may take longer.”

Holbrooke's 'pessimistic' view on Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the crowd of US players was even thicker, as shown in Bob Woodward’s book, “Obama’s Wars,” an account of the administration’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to the war.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Vice President Joseph Biden led the counterarguments, pointing out the shortcomings of military escalation given the shortcomings on the civilian side. Holbrooke sounded many of the same cautionary notes, though was constrained knowing that his boss, Clinton, hewed closely to the military’s recommendations.


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