Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special envoy on the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, begins a potentially arduous process of sizing up the challenge before him when he begins meeting with Pakistan's government leaders on Tuesday, senior Western diplomats and Pakistani officials said Monday.
Holbrooke, the architect of the peace in Bosnia, will face considerable challenges in his new assignment. A European ambassador based in Islamabad, speaking to CBS News ahead of Holbrooke's arrival compared the Pakistan-Afghanistan situation with the Bosnian case when he said Monday: "Bosnia was like freshman or sophomore [year]. By comparison this would be a tough graduate assignment, which would be far from easy."
President Obama has already identified Afghanistan as his main front in the U.S. campaign against terror. The Obama administration is expected to send up to 30,000 troops to Afghanistan later this year, doubling America's military presence. There are already some 50,000 NATO troops deployed on the ground.
But analysts are divided over the extent to which a U.S. troop surge would be able to quickly calm the unrest in Afghanistan, where a Taliban insurgency backed by Al-Qaeda has escalated in the past year. The effects of that insurgency have spread to Pakistan.
In the past few days, Taliban militants blew up a bridge in Pakistan's northwestern frontier province (NWFP), disrupting supplies by trucks for NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan. The attack followed a number of previous Taliban attacks, also apparently meant to disrupt the supplies to Afghanistan.
Western diplomats say both the U.S. and NATO are coming under mounting pressure to establish alternative supply routes either through the former central Asian republics or in the event of improved Western relations with Iran, through Iranian soil.
However, Pakistani officials preparing for Holbrooke's visit said the route through Pakistan is the shortest available for keeping up the supplies for Western troops in Afghanistan, where most of the fighting is taking place.
Meanwhile, Pakistani nationalists have seized the opportunity of Holbrooke's visit to revive calls for a tougher approach towards the U.S.
"We have to tell the U.S. in clear terms we can't offer more sacrifices. We have lost our soldiers and many of our innocent people have been killed for a cause which is a U.S. cause," said Khurshid Ahmed, a leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan's largest Islamic political party, in an interview with CBS NEWS. "There has to be a limit to how far we can sacrifice our own interests, and fight for a cause which is dividing our own country" he said.
Ahmed's remarks come in the midst of the latest reminder of growing dangers from the Taliban insurgency to western interests. On Monday, some Pakistani news organizations reported receiving a seven minute video of the beheading of Piotr Stanczak, a Polish engineer, believed to be kidnapped by the Taliban.
In that video, a Taliban militant was shown addressing the camera, and describing the beheading as a result of Pakistan's refusal to release Taliban prisoners. Stanczak's beheading is the first time a Western national has been killed in such a way in Pakistan since 2002, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed in the custody of pro-Taliban Islamic militants.
Holbrooke in his latest remarks indicated the gravity of the challenged he was likely to face. "It is like no other problem we have confronted, and in my view it's going to be much tougher than Iraq," he said Sunday during a speech at a security conference in Germany. "What is required in my view is new ideas, better coordination within the U.S. government, better coordination with our NATO allies and other concerned countries, and the time to get it right."