Graham Usher in the London Review of Books (via 3quarksdaily):
Pakistan and India have been at war since 1948. There have been occasional flare-ups, pitched battles between the two armies, but mostly the war has taken the form of a guerrilla battle between the Indian army and Pakistani surrogates in Kashmir. In 2004 the two countries began a cautious peace process, but rather than ending, the war has since migrated to Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas on the Afghan border. ‘Safe havens’ for a reinvigorated Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, the tribal areas are seen by the West as the ‘greatest threat’ to its security, as well as being the main cause of Western frustration with Pakistan. The reason is simple: the Pakistan army’s counterinsurgency strategy is not principally directed at the Taliban or even al-Qaida: the main enemy is India.
In the Bajaur tribal area, for example, the army is fighting an insurgency led by Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of one of Pakistan’s three Taliban factions, but it’s not because he is a friend of al-Qaida. What makes him a threat, in the eyes of Pakistan’s army, is that he is believed to be responsible for scores of suicide attacks inside Pakistan (including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto). He is also thought to have recruited hundreds of Afghan fighters, among them ‘agents’ from the Afghan and Indian intelligence services – ‘Pakistan’s enemies’, in the words of a senior officer.
Matthew Kaminski interviews Richard Holbrooke, America’s regional envoy, in The Wall Street Journal:
His face tense and unsmiling, a young man from a village in Pakistan’s western tribal areas tells his story, mixing English, Pashto and Urdu. He is the only male in his clan to get an education, but can’t find a job, and blames a corrupt national government. Americans are bombing his neighbors, he says, tempting him to join the Islamist militants in his area. Across the room, another Pakistani turns toward his hosts at the U.S. Embassy and says, “You are hated.”
The comments are addressed to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and the new American special representative for the region, Richard Holbrooke. Seated alongside the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, Mr. Holbrooke asks a dozen or so men in the room about the presence of the Taliban in their villages. “We are all Taliban,” comes a response. The others nod in accord. All are or were “religious students,” or Taliban in Pashto. But the expression of solidarity with the various Pakistani and Afghan insurgents who go by the name is lost on no one.
Is Islamabad next, asks Shuja Nawaz in Foreign Policy
The coordinated attacks by the Taliban in Kabul on the eve of U.S. Amb. Richard Holbrooke’s arrival were no coincidence. Apart from ratcheting up fear among the citizens of Kabul, these attacks may well reflect a sense of desperation on the part of the Taliban. They fear that the impending arrival of additional troops in Afghanistan and simultaneous attempts to begin a dialogue with elements of the Afghan insurgency could leave them isolated. Hence the need to show their strength and ability to penetrate and attack the government in Kabul at will. Apart from showing off their military prowess, the Taliban wish to highlight President Hamid Karzai’s inability to control even his own capital. There may be a regional strategy behind this approach.
Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari in The Washington Post:
Asif Ali Zardari
Pakistan looks forward to a new beginning in its bilateral relationship with the United States. First, we congratulate Barack Obama and the country that had the character to elect him, and we welcome his decision to name a special envoy to Southwest Asia. Appointing the seasoned diplomat Richard Holbrooke says much about the president’s worldview and his understanding of the complexities of peace and stability and the threats of extremism and terrorism. Simply put, we must move beyond rhetoric and tackle the hard problems.
Pakistan has repeatedly been identified as the most critical external problem facing the new administration. The situation in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India is indeed critical, but its severity actually presents an opportunity for aggressive and innovative action. Since the end of the Musharraf dictatorship, Pakistan has worked to confront the challenges of a young democracy facing an active insurgency, within the context of an international economic crisis. Ambassador Holbrooke will soon discover that Pakistan is far more than a rhetorical partner in the fight against extremism. Unlike in the 1980s, we are surrogates for no one. With all due respect, we need no lectures on our commitment. This is our war. It is our children and wives who are dying.
Laura Rozen in Foreign Policy on India’s stealth lobbying against Richard Holbrooke’s brief:
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — flanked by President Obama — introduced Richard Holbrooke as the formidable new U.S. envoy to South Asia at a State Department ceremony on Thursday, India was noticeably absent from his title.
Holbrooke, the veteran negotiator of the Dayton accords and sharp-elbowed foreign policy hand who has long advised Clinton, was officially named “special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan” in what was meant to be one of the signature foreign policy acts of Obama’s first week in office.
But the omission of India from his title, and from Clinton’s official remarks introducing the new diplomatic push in the region was no accident — not to mention a sharp departure from Obama’s own previously stated approach of engaging India, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, in a regional dialogue. Multiple sources told The Cable that India vigorously — and successfully — lobbied the Obama transition team to make sure that neither India nor Kashmir was included in Holbrooke’s official brief.
“When the Indian government learned Holbrooke was going to do [Pakistan]-India, they swung into action and lobbied to have India excluded from his purview,” relayed one source. “And they succeeded. Holbrooke’s account officially does not include India.”
And click here to read The Washington Post story.
Previously in AW:
Richard Holbrooke, a former United Nations ambassador, was chosen Thursday for the post of special envoy to Pakistan and India.
[ Update: India managed to trim Holbrooke's portfolio to Pakistan and Afghanistan -- basically eliminating the contested region of Kashmir from his job description. Click here to read The Washington Post story]
Holbrooke has more than 45 years of foreign policy and diplomatic experience, including brokering a peace pact between warring factions in Bosnia that led to the 1995 Dayton peace accords.
Holbrooke, who supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Democratic primaries, is good friends with two early supporters of Barack Obama: James Johnson, who headed Obama’s vice-presidential search team, and Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning human rights expert. And Holbrooke took pains to avoid criticism of Obama.