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Holbrooke arrives on ‘exploratory trip’

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    Source: Holbrooke arrives on ‘exploratory trip’ -DAWN - Top Stories; February 10, 2009

    Holbrooke arrives on ‘exploratory trip’

    By Baqir Sajjad Syed

    ISLAMABAD, Feb 9: US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke arrived here on Monday on an ‘orientation and exploratory trip’ ahead of a policy review for the region by the Obama administration.

    “As President Obama’s and Secretary of State Clinton’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, I am here to listen and learn the ground realities of this critically important country,” Ambassador Holbrooke said on arrival.

    He is expected to meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and key military commanders and report back his “findings and conclusions” to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.

    He said: “The United States looks forward to reviewing our policies and renewing our commitment and friendship with the people of Pakistan.”

    In a statement on Ambassador Holbrooke’s visit, the Foreign Office noted: “It is Pakistan’s endeavour 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.”

    “Pakistan also looks forward to further broadening and deepening bilateral cooperation with the US,” it added.

    Ahead of Mr Holbrooke’s visit, the government put in special efforts to ensure that its various agencies took a unified stand on issues pertaining to the region, particularly militancy and extremism. Special rounds of discussions were held at the Foreign Office and Prime Minister’s Secretariat to chart out a strategy for talks with Mr Holbrooke, who carries a reputation of a tough negotiator.

    Sources said that during the talks Pakistan would be pressing for a development and political surge in Afghanistan alongside the planned military surge. It would also communicate its apprehensions to the US envoy that a military surge could lead to further instability in Pakistan because of the influx of militants, they added.

    The sources said Pakistan would reiterate its position on the drone attacks and urge the new US administration to stop them to enable it to wean away tribesmen from the militants.

    The US, according to the wish list to be given to the special envoy, will be asked to expedite the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones project and the Kerry-Lugar Bill for assistance to Pakistan.

    Although much has been lost from Islamabad’s perspective with the removal of Kashmir from Mr Holbrooke’s mandate, Pakistan will make a fresh case on the issue, asking the US to realise the security threats confronting the country on eastern borders while it focussed itself on the western border in the war on terror.

    Mr Holbrooke will depart for Kabul on Thursday. He is later scheduled to visit New Delhi.