January 22, 2009 / 8:45 PM / 11 years ago

SCENARIOS-Holbrooke faces big test in Afghanistan/Pakistan

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON, Jan 22 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday appointed foreign policy veteran Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Holbrooke, a former ambassador to the United Nations who negotiated the 1995 peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war, faces an array of challenges in dealing with the war in Afghanistan and its tense and fragile border with Pakistan.

Here are some of the problems and possibilities for U.S. action in the region:

- President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. He promised during the campaign to bolster troop levels there to battle growing violence and a resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda, but new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at her confirmation hearing that a broader strategy was needed in Afghanistan that included diplomacy, defense and development.

In addition to more troops in Afghanistan, the United States has promised more nonmilitary aid to Pakistan devoted in part to developing tribal areas where al Qaeda militants have flourished. Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda militants are believed to be hiding in the mountainous border region of Pakistan near Afghanistan.

- Clinton has suggested a U.S. envoy would need to shuttle between Pakistan and Afghanistan to help guide the efforts in the border region between the two countries, and has suggested she will be looking for more regional support. The United States could look to India, central Asian states and even China or Russia for help. The United States also has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to battle jihadi groups since the Mumbai attacks in November that killed 179 people and raised tensions between the two south Asian nuclear rivals.

- In developing a comprehensive approach to the region, the Obama administration must also wrestle with the growing tension between India and Pakistan. The two have fought three wars since 1947, and relations between the countries have deteriorated since the Mumbai attacks. India blames the attacks on Pakistani militants, but Islamabad has denied any involvement by state agencies. India has paused a peace process that started in 2004, and the United States must decide how hard it will press for a resumption — particularly before Indian elections in May.

- The United States must decide how involved to become in the dispute over Kashmir, a region claimed by both India and Pakistan that has been a flashpoint between the countries for decades. Pakistan sees a settlement as essential to normalizing relations. India rejects any outside effort to influence its approach to Kashmir and has been nervous about Obama’s suggestion during the campaign that a special envoy was needed there. A solution to that dispute could free Islamabad to focus more on Afghanistan.

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