Holbrooke to visit Afghanistan, Pakistan next week

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, plans to visit both countries next week as part of “routine” consultations with their governments, said a spokeswoman for his office.

En route to the region, Holbrooke will stop over in Abu Dhabi for meetings with other special envoys ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in London on Jan 28, said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified.

The U.S. diplomat returns later on Wednesday from London, where he also held preparatory meetings this week for the conference, which will focus on future strategy in Afghanistan in light of the U.S. plan to send in 30,000 more troops to stem the insurgency.

Conference participants will also seek commitments from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to do a better job in fighting corruption, and from troop-contributing nations to find ways to improve civilian-military cooperation and coordination, said a European diplomat, who asked not to be named.

“Military and civilian coordination is something which is not working very well at the moment,” said the diplomat.

In his meetings with Karzai and others, Holbrooke is expected to focus on preparations for the London conference as well as discussions on building up the Afghan national security forces, a key component of the U.S. strategy.

Karzai has been battling to get his country’s parliament to confirm a new cabinet in time for the London conference, seeking to end months of political uncertainty that began with the fraud-ravaged election in August.


Holbrooke’s visit to nuclear-armed Pakistan -- his first since last October when he accompanied U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- coincides with renewed strains in U.S.-Pakistani relations.

Islamabad has recently delayed hundreds of visas for U.S. officials and contractors working in the country, and there have also been tensions over the handling of a U.S. nonmilitary assistance package for Pakistan, amounting to $7.5 billion over the next five years.

“In Pakistan he will call on the leadership to continue dialogue and look for ways to emphasize our assistance and address concerns,” said the spokeswoman, without commenting further.

The fragile government of President Asif Ali Zardari is struggling to contain a raging Taliban insurgency and growing instability in the country. A suicide bombing at a volleyball game in a northwestern village last week killed at least 98 people.

The United States sees Pakistan as a frontline state in the fight against the Taliban insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan and would like Islamabad to do more to root out militants who seek refuge in border areas.

But Pakistan has yet to mount concerted action against Afghan Taliban factions in the border enclaves. For its part, Washington has stepped up pilotless drone attacks on targets in Pakistan.

Editing by Todd Eastham