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Holbrooke Death Comes At Key Point In Afghan Policy

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Holbrooke Death Comes At Key Point In Afghan Policy

Afghanistan

Holbrooke Death Comes At Key Point In Afghan Policy

Holbrooke Death Comes At Key Point In Afghan Policy

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The position of U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, known as SRAP, is arguably one of America's toughest diplomatic portfolios. It involves overseeing a significant civilian effort to help build society, the economy and democracy in both countries. With the passing of Richard Holbrooke, what's next for the diplomatic side of the Obama administration's strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan?

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And Melissa Block.

Later this week we expect to hear the results of the White House's latest review of strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today, President Obama discussed that review with senior advisers. Among those at today's meeting was Frank Ruggiero. He's just been named as the temporary replacement for Richard Holbrooke, who died yesterday.

NPR's Jackie Northam reports on what happens to Holbrooke's job now.

JACKIE NORTHAM: The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, known as SRAP, is arguably one of America's toughest diplomatic portfolios. It involves overseeing a significant civilian effort to help build society, the economy and democracy in both countries.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley says a new special representative will bring fresh eyes to the position.

Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (Spokesman, Department of State): I think it's too early to tell what changes will be made, not so much in the policy, but obviously there will be a change in personal approach and that is inevitable.

NORTHAM: Ruggiero was Holbrooke's deputy and spent months as a top U.S. official in southern Afghanistan. There he saw firsthand the challenges of implementing aid and reconstruction projects in that volatile and dangerous region - the birthplace of the Taliban. Ruggiero is a career civil servant who has worked in many government agencies.

Steve Coll, the president of the New America Foundation, says the role of SRAP under Holbrooke evolved over the past two years.

Mr. STEVE COLL (President, New America Foundation): You need someone who's experienced with the whole of government. It's not just a diplomatic mission. It's been a hybrid role that involves leadership on aid policy, humanitarian relief, coordinating with the military, making sure that civilians play a role in the reconstruction and counterinsurgency program.

NORTHAM: Coll says the administration's policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan is at a turning point.

Mr. COLL: Now I think we're moving toward a period where political negotiations - very complex, very risky diplomatic negotiations - are likely to be evolving over the next year or so. And a lead diplomat will be required, who has the experience and skill to try to develop that negotiation, that political track in support of the policy and transition.

NORTHAM: In the meantime, Ruggiero will have to deal with some of the same vexing issues that Holbrooke faced. Anthony Cordesman, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said at the top of that list are the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Cordesman says they're both at odds with the goals and tactics of the U.S. That has caused major problems in the past and he doesn't see it changing.

Mr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Center for Strategic and International Studies): But for anyone to move things forward now, then and most importantly in the future, there will be still constant friction between whoever does this for the United States and the Karzai government and the civil and military leaders of Pakistan.

NORTHAM: Cordesman disputes suggestions that Holbrooke's outsized personality and often brusque manner exacerbated the problems.

Mr. CORDESMAN: Mahatma Gandhi, had he been involved, could not have done better.

NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News Washington.

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