ISLAMABAD, Feb 10 – The US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan met key leaders in Islamabad Tuesday as part of a major US policy review aimed at turning around the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in South Asia.,
Richard Holbrooke held talks with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, an AFP photographer said, ahead of meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and military chiefs.
His visit came as US President Barack Obama called for a combined effort to eradicate Al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan and the border region with Pakistan, and expressed concern about Afghan government efforts.
The United States has put together a plan to send up to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, which would double the US contingent fighting the Taliban-led insurgency along with NATO forces.
But the troops are awaiting a green light from the White House, which has "signalled it wants to look at the (strategy) reviews under way," a senior military official said in Washington.
"They’ve got elections coming up, but effectively, the national government seems very detached from what’s going on in the surrounding community," Obama said.
"What we haven’t seen is the kind of concerted effort to root out those safe havens that ultimately makes our mission successful."
Obama called for more effective coordination between the US and its allies.
"I do not have a timetable for how long that’s going to take. What I know is I’m not going to allow Al-Qaeda and (Osama) bin Laden to operate with impunity attacking the US," he said.
Holbrooke, considered the architect of peace in Bosnia, will likely face criticism from a civilian government worried that US missile strikes against militants in Pakistan will exacerbate its domestic problems and unpopularity.
Islamabad’s relations with Washington and Kabul have been strained over accusations that Pakistan is not doing enough to eradicate Islamist "safe havens" on its territory.
Holbrooke will hold top-level talks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India before reporting back to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama.
"The United States looks forward to reviewing our policies and renewing our commitment and friendship with the people of Pakistan," Holbrooke was quoted as saying in a statement released by the US embassy in Islamabad.
Pakistan, reeling from attacks that have killed more than 1,500 people in 20 months, has welcomed the US policy review.
The foreign ministry said Islamabad was looking for fresh perspective on security, stability and development, to address "militancy, terrorism and extremism effectively" in a "comprehensive and holistic strategy."
Pakistan wants the US missile attacks to end, US aid pledges and renewed diplomacy on Kashmir, an issue at the heart of its troubles with India but which Washington says is not within Holbrooke’s mandate.
But Holbrooke’s mission will be further complicated by an escalating blame game between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks, which New Delhi has blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
The United States also wants more assurances that nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb who was freed from virtual house arrest last week, will not be involved in nuclear proliferation.
Clinton said in an interview released on Monday that she decided to create a special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan after witnessing bad blood between the countries’ leaders during a regional tour as senator in 2007.