Tales from the Trail

AfPak — It’s his baby now

ruggiero

On a day when the most powerful people in Washington were discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan, there was one man who might be excused for looking a little shell-shocked.

Frank Ruggiero, who stepped in as acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) following the sudden death of his boss Richard Holbrooke on Monday, had little time to prepare for his first big outing as President Barack Obama’s  pointman for the biggest foreign policy headache facing the administration.

Ruggiero spoke to the press after Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates formally unveiled  their official review of the year-old Afghan strategy, which said enough progress was being made to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July despite fragile and uneven gains against the Taliban insurgents.

Clinton — accompanied by virtually Holbrooke’s entire office — joined Ruggiero at the press conference in an orchestrated display of continuity and solidarity.

“I have complete confidence in this SRAP team,” Clinton said, adding that Ruggiero had hit the ground running  as he took over the duties of the office.

Washington Extra – Analyze This

A confusing labyrinth. That is how the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) described the American development effort in Afghanistan, in a damning report on how $17.7 billion in aid and reconstruction money was doled out to 7,000 contractors between 2007 and 2009 with little or no coordination.kabul

With all the criticism that surrounds the Afghan government and the tactics employed by the U.S. military, the major shortcomings in the West’s development effort in Afghanistan sometimes seem to get too little attention. The U.S. Special Representative to the region Richard Holbrooke once said he had “never seen anything remotely resembling the mess” he inherited in terms of the development effort, while former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani once described the aid effort to me as “dysfunctional and lacking accountability.” It is a view shared by many experts, who see it as a major reason why the West has failed to win more Afghan hearts and minds, and why things are now not going as well as President Barack Obama would have hoped.

Incredibly, SIGAR had tried to analyze contracting in Afghanistan for the years 2002-7, but found much of the data the government agencies had compiled prior to 2007 was “too poor to be analyzed.”

Holbrooke: No “dysfunction” on U.S. Afghan Team

 Barack Obama’s team running the Afghan war has its issues — but is it dysfunctional? No, sir, according to Richard Holbrooke.

” I have worked in every Democratic administration since the Kennedy administration, and I know dysfunctionality when I see it,” Holbrooke, the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the PBS NewsHour program.

” There are always personal differences and ambitions, but this is just not true. It’s not a dysfunctional relationship.”

Holbrooke hits the airwaves in new push

When President Barack Obama snuck into Afghanistan unannounced last month, a notable omission on Air Force One was his special representative for the region, veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke. OBAMA-AFGHANISTAN

Leaving out the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Obama’s very first trip to Kabul as president raised a few eyebrows.

Was Holbrooke’s star fading? Were frictions between his office at the State Department and the White House coming to a head? Would tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has made a string of anti-Western comments over recent weeks, cause further problems for the Obama administration as it seeks to turn around the 8-year war?

General Kayani steals the spotlight at Pakistani embassy party

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Pakistan’s foreign minister heads his country’s delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader’s ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister  Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.

U.S. senators and Obama administration officials lined up to speak to the slim and dapper general, who Pakistani media say rules the roost back home but is also central to U.S. relations with Islamabad.

Is Holbrooke’s “bulldozer” style working?

Dubbed the “bulldozer” for his tough guy tactics in Balkan negotiations, U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has been making waves in South Asia recently.

holbrookeU.S. embassies in New Delhi and Kabul have been scrambling over the past week to deal with local fallout from statements made by Washington’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Statements that often go by unnoticed in Washington are parsed word for word in a region where there are deeply-held suspicions over U.S. intentions.

Holbrooke: my relationship with Karzai is good, really

Absolutely they are on good terms…

Richard Holbrooke, special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, once again declared his respect for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. AFGHANISTAN/

In fact, he feels so strongly about reports that the two don’t get along he wrote a letter to The Washington Post.

“I did not, and never have, spoken harshly to Mr. Karzai, ” said Holbrooke in the letter to the editor, which was published on Thursday. He was responding to a story earlier this week in the newspaper which said he had spoken harshly to the re-elected Afghan leader.

Protest resignation over Afghan plans puts Obama team on edge

On Monday, the State Department sent out its no. 2 official to tout how it was managing to get U.S. civilians out into the field in Afghanistan, with nearly 1,000 expected to be in place by year-end.

A day later, it was in damage control mode after the resignation of one of its star employees was plastered on the front page of The Washington Post and on the Internet.

In an emotionally-charged four-page letter dated September 10, Matthew Hoh said he was quitting because he had lost confidence in the war effort and whether it was worth the blood spilled there.

Holbrooke jokes about Kerry’s Karzai eclipse

Power plays are always a tricky business in Washington and sometimes it’s better to make a joke out of it. Or not.

Special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, used that tactic on Friday when asked about reports that veteran Senator John Kerry is stealing his limelight.

“I’d like to make a joke and say, ‘I’m always happy to be eclipsed by John Kerry.’ But then you’ll take it seriously and then I’ll cause more problems,” Holbrooke told reporters.

Mia Farrow’s son working for Holbrooke on Pakistan

The sons of actors and presidents have been in the news a lot lately.

Take Mia Farrow’s 21-year-old son Ronan, who was all over the blogosphere today for his role as liaison between the office of star “Afpak” diplomat Richard Holbrooke and nongovernmental groups working in Pakistan.

PAKISTAN-USA/Several NGO officials said they were taken aback when Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, introduced his protege at a meeting in Washington this week as a “special liaison” on Pakistan.

“It was a surprise but we don’t see this really as a big deal. He’s not the only point of contact for us,” said one NGO of  Farrow’s appointment.