ABC News’ Kirit Radia reports: Next week, the State Department will host the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Obama administration’s first attempt to bring the sides together under its stated regional approach to the instability along their common border.
The foreign ministers’ trip to Washington was a result of Special Representative Richard Holbrooke’s consultations in the region last week. He told PBS in an interview Wednesday that their visit is "a manifestation of a new, intense, engaged diplomacy designed to put Afghanistan and Pakistan into a larger regional context and move forward to engage other countries in the effort to stabilize this incredibly volatile region."
The two ministers will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Holbrooke, as well as the interagency team headed by Bruce Reidel that is formulating the administration’s policy review on the matter. That team met for the first time Wednesday and is expected to deliver its findings by late March. Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the chief of staff of the Pakistani army and former head of the intelligence service, is also expected to make the trip.
Holbrooke told PBS he expects Indian officials to come to Washington in "a couple of weeks" — again, part of the regional approach the Obama team hopes will finally solve the problems in the region.
Holbrooke also brushed aside suggestions that President Obama’s recent call to his Afghan counterpart came too late and was a sign of displeasure with the Afghan leader.
"I really don’t understand the criticism," he said.
Holbrooke also criticized the recent peace deal between Pakistan and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, saying Pakistan had "ceded to the bad guys."
"We’re troubled and confused, in a sense, about what happened in Swat, because it is not an encouraging trend. Previous cease-fires have broken down," he told PBS.
In an interview with CNN late this afternoon, Holbrooke revealed he called Pakistan’s President Asif Zardari today to voice his concerns about the peace deal in Swat.
"I am concerned, and I know that Secretary Clinton is and the president is, that this deal which is portrayed in the press as a truce does not turn into a surrender," said Holbrooke. "President Zardari has assured us this is not the case."
The call illustrates just how broad Holbrooke’s mandate is, that he can pick up the phone and call Zardari himself.
Holbrooke told PBS yesterday the matter will also be pursued "at very high levels" with Pakistan’s foreign minister when he is in Washington next week.
Asked how the Obama administration will define success in Afghanistan, Holbrooke replied: "The victory, as defined in purely military terms, is not achievable, and I cannot stress that too highly. What we’re looking for is the definition of our vital national security interests."
U.S. officials say Holbrooke isn’t expected to re-visit the Pakistan-Afghanistan region for at least a few more weeks.