WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has appointed veteran U.S. diplomat James Dobbins as Washington's new special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Friday.
Dobbins, head of international security and defense at the RAND National Defense Research Institute and a former senior U.S. diplomat, will replace Marc Grossman as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Grossman had replaced the late Richard Holbrooke in the post. Holbrooke died suddenly in December 2010.
Ventrell said that Kerry spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to inform them of the appointment earlier on Friday.
Dobbins is taking on a challenging post. The Afghan government has grown increasingly frustrated with Pakistan, suggesting its neighbor is intent on keeping Afghanistan unstable rather than helping to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
The appointment of Dobbins comes as the United States is encouraging Pakistan to help Afghanistan to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table ahead of the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops by the end of 2014.
There is also the sensitive question of U.S. drone strikes.
Civilian casualties from drone strikes have angered local populations and created tension between the United States and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Washington has sought to portray civilian casualties as minimal, but groups collecting data on these attacks say they have killed hundreds of civilians.
Dobbins represented the United States at the Bonn Conference that established the new Afghan government in December 2001, shortly after U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban, and in the same month raised the flag over the reopened U.S. Embassy in Kabul.