Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will give a major speech Friday on Afghanistan-Pakistan policy at the Asia Society in New York. She is expected to announce the appointment of retired diplomat Marc Grossman to replace the recently deceased Richard Holbrooke as the State Department’s special envoy to the “AfPak” region.
The appointment of Mr. Grossman comes at a particularly difficult moment in US-Pakistan relations, which have deteriorated dramatically in recent weeks. The case of Raymond Davis, a former Special Forces operator and current US “contractor” who stands accused of murdering two Pakistanis in Lahore, has created a huge rift between the US and Pakistan governments. The US maintains that Mr. Davis acted in self-defence (almost certainly true) and that he is therefore entitled to full diplomatic immunity. Pakistan is under heavy pressure to prosecute Mr. Davis.
Finding a way out of this impasse is a matter of considerable urgency. There is acute concern at the highest levels of the US government that the Davis case, in combination with all the other ills of Pakistan society, could incite a popular uprising similar to the one in Egypt that brought down Hosni Mubarak.
A destabilized Pakistan would come at a particularly inopportune time for US policy-makers, who are trying to transition US leadership in Afghanistan while simultaneously keeping US-Pakistan relations from going off the rails. Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post notes:
…virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy’s other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there.
One of Grossman’s first tasks will be advising Clinton on new senior diplomats to replace Eikenberry and others in the Kabul embassy. Both State and defence suffer from a thin bench of officials with Afghanistan experience.
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