US envoy conducts policy review in Pakistan
The US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was to meet key leaders here Tuesday as part of a major US policy review aimed at turning around the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in south Asia.
Richard Holbrooke, considered the architect of peace in Bosnia, was due to meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and military chiefs, the foreign ministry said.
US President Barack Obama has called Afghanistan the main front in the "war on terror" and plans to send a further 30,000 troops there, doubling the US contingent fighting a Taliban-led insurgency along with NATO forces.
Holbrooke will hold top-level talks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India 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 statement released by the US embassy after his arrival in Islamabad late Monday.
"The United States looks forward to reviewing our policies and renewing our commitment and friendship with the people of Pakistan," he added.
The foreign ministry said Islamabad was looking for fresh perspective on security, stability and development, to address "militancy, terrorism and extremism effectively" in a "comprehensive and holistic strategy".
But Holbrooke will likely face criticism from a civilian government worried that US missile strikes against militant targets on its territory will exacerbate its domestic problems and unpopularity.
Islamabad's relations with Washington and Kabul have been strained over accusations 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, has welcomed the US policy review.
Holbrooke's mission will be further complicated by an escalating blame game between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks, which New Delhi has blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
The United States has also expressed concern that nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb who was freed from house arrest last week, will not be involved in nuclear proliferation.
"What is required in my view is new ideas, better coordination within the US government, better coordination with our NATO allies and other concerned countries, and the time to get it right," Holbrooke said in Germany on Sunday.
"Pakistan's situation is dire," he said. "It needs international assistance, international sympathy and international support."
Pakistan wants the US missile attacks to end, US aid (10 billion dollars under ex-ruler Pervez Musharraf) and renewed diplomacy on Kashmir, an issue at the heart of its troubles with India but which Washington says is not within Holbrooke's mandate.
Islamabad said Monday its investigators needed more information from India to complete a probe into the Mumbai attacks in November, when 10 gunmen killed 165 people during a 60-hour siege.
New Delhi blamed the attacks on the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is active in Indian-ruled Kashmir, but the outfit has denied responsibility.