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Holbrooke: western Pakistan key to resolving Afghanistan war

The US special envoy told allies at the Brussels Forum that the Talibanization of the region was a top concern.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 23, 2009


Ahead of a key April 2 NATO meeting – and Barack Obama's first presidential trip outside North AmericaUS special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke says that western Pakistan presents the chief problem in resolving an eight-year war that has divided allies and threatens the standing of an alliance ready to mark its 60th anniversary.

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The Talibanization of west Pakistan, in the Swat region that borders Afghanistan, was the greatest surprise to envoy Mr. Holbrooke on his first fact-finding mission to the region last month. It was the top issue he relayed to Mr. Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Holbrooke told the Monitor on the sidelines of the Brussels Forum, a security meeting here.

"A year ago, I visited Peshawar [near the Khyber Pass] and I was asked about starting an Asia Society office there," Holbrooke said. "Last month, people were afraid to go outside after dark and walk their dogs. The change in the situation was stunning. Geopolitically Afghanistan hasn't changed; Pakistan has."

Holbrooke spoke at the Brussels Forum and meets here this week with NATO officials ahead of a much-anticipated Obama strategy for dealing with Afghanistan.

"The heart of the problem for the West is in western Pakistan," the envoy said. "But there are not going to be US or NATO troops on the ground in Pakistan. There is a red line for the government of Pakistan, and one which we must respect."