Richard Holbrooke's Death Leaves a Diplomatic Void in Troubled Region

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"He helped lay the solid foundation for a broad-based relationship based on mutual respect, trust and interest," said Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi in a statement today. "His sudden passing away has left a huge vacuum."

Holbrooke's last words to his doctor was, "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."

"He always wanted to make sure he got the last word," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said today. "And secondly, it just showed how he was singularly focused on pursuing and advancing the... process and the policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan to bring them to a successful conclusion."

The State Department on Monday said one of Holbrooke's deputies, Frank Ruggiero, who until recently was the senior civilian in Kandahar (and was the U.S. official featured by the WikiLeaks cables in two meetings with Ahmed Wali Karzai), will serve as the acting head. The agency wouldn't comment beyond that on who might replace the former diplomat.

Given Holbrooke's sudden death and the lack of experts in the region, it could take some time to determine his long-term replacement.

Anne Patterson, who served as ambassador to Pakistan for three years from 2007, is well acquainted with the region. Patterson was a well-regarded diplomat in Pakistan but she hasn't been without her share of controversy.

In any case, whoever succeeds Holbrooke is likely to face a slew of daunting challenges in a region dominated by political strife and social upheaval.

"This (role of special representative) was a creation of Holbrooke for Holbrooke," Markey said. "It was something that fit him and it fit him because he created it and so whoever comes next would have to engage in some revision because it won't be a perfect fit. A lot of the individuals who were assembled for that office -- some from inside government, many from outside of government -- were people who were in many cases hand-selected by Holbrooke so this all bears his imprint and that will be a challenge for anybody who will be attempting to fill his shoes afterward."

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