Holbrooke on U.S.-Pakistan Relationship: It's 'Complicated'

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Richard Holbrooke, the President's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is "more complicated than any strategic relationship I've been involved in."



At the Washington Ideas Forum, Holbrooke said that "success in Afghanistan is not achievable unless Pakistan is not part of the problem. In the end, we're going to work with the Pakistanis as long as I'm involved in this. That's the right policy, and this administration believes that."

He disputed Christiane Amanpour's question about why Pakistan had retaliated against an allegedly accidental border crossing  by cutting off NATO military supply routes.
"Let me be try to phrase it very precisely: first of all, I don't believe that it's going to change the fundamental relationship between our two countries. Apparently some events ... crossed the border ... an area that is ill-defined in areas is complicated and very rough terrain. It was very unfortunate and an investigation is going on by NATO, as it should be, but i do not think it will change the fundamentals of our relationship."

He said that supply routes that been "slowed" but not completely closed.

Holbrooke wouldn't say what "winning the war" means. 

"I'm not in light at the end of the tunnel stuff," he said.  But over the past year, he said, "the Taliban is under immensely greater pressure, and they are feeling that."

He expressed strong support for President Hamid Karzai's Taliban "reintegration" program -- but recognized that it was "not operational" because "it is constrained by the circumstances of this tragic, complicated program." And did not object to Karzai's new efforts to negotiate -- although he does not like that word -- with hard-line Taliban groups. 

Amanpour wanted to know if the U.S. and NATO forces could get the job done by July 2011, when troops will begin to return home. "The president has not put a fixed deadline. He has said very clearly that withdrawals will be based on a careful and conditioned basis. It's the beginning of a drawdown process. There is no end-state stared."

"President Obama, Secretary Clinton have all said repeatedly that there has to be a presence in Afghanistan after the combat troops have left. And they will, because [combat troops] are not going to be there indefinitely."

Amanpour bristled when Holbrooke suggested that changing the ancient tribal and religious culture in the region is not a viable goal. Holbrooke bristled at the suggestion that he was condoning crimes against women. He said his point was that "[w]e will never have a day when we will be violence free."

One other question Holbrooke would not touch: when the U.S. had decided that destroying the Haqqani network in Pakistan was a prime strategic goal.

Holbrooke: "I'm not going to get into that."

Amanpour: "That's a direct question."

Holbrooke: "That's a direct answer."

Amanpour: "That's a direct non-answer."

Holbrooke: "You can get on a table if you want."

This was a reference to the first time Holbrooke met Amanpour; she hopped on a table to get someone to answer her questions.


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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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