The Cable

As Pakistani government teeters, Holbrooke Hill appearances delayed again

As previously reported. U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke was slated to testify before the Senate and House Foreign Affairs committees this week, but had to reschedule to next week due to scheduling conflicts. Tonight comes word from the Hill that Holbrooke has had to postpone his rescheduled testimony on U.S. policy ...

As previously reported. U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke was slated to testify before the Senate and House Foreign Affairs committees this week, but had to reschedule to next week due to scheduling conflicts.

Tonight comes word from the Hill that Holbrooke has had to postpone his rescheduled testimony on U.S. policy to Pakistan before the Senate Foreign Relations Commitee slated for next week until mid May.

“Ridiculous,” one Hill foreign policy hand grumbles. “Only Holbrooke can string along the Committee in this fashion.”

But Holbrooke has a really good reason. The presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan are headed to Washington for trilateral meetings next week. And the Pakistani government may be on the verge of collapse.

Indeed, the question arises, will Pakistan’s embattled civilian government still be in power by the time Holbrooke gets around to testifying?

As the Washington Independent reports,  Centcom commander “Gen. David Petraeus is telling people privately that the next two weeks (!) are a test of the [Pakistani president Asif Ali} Zardari government’s survivability.”

“Look at [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton]’s comments over the  last week to the effect that the Zardari government has abdicated and that the Taliban move toward Islamabad is a ‘mortal threat’ to the  U.S. and the world,” a former U.S. intelligence official told The Cable on condition of anonymity. “This sets the stage for a nod to [Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez] Kiyani, if it  becomes necessary.  The administration will have to deal with a Congress that just loves elections, but has never learned that though the Pakistanis are pretty good at elections, they are pretty sorry at running a democracy.  Watch the SecState’s comments, and those of the president.”

Asked about U.S. policy to Afghanistan and Pakistan today at a meeting with former U.S. diplomats, Clinton said: “In Pakistan, it’s a very difficult environment because of the confusion among the civilian and military leadership about how to prioritize what is the greatest threat to Pakistan going forward. We will have this week our second trilateral. [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai will be coming from Afghanistan with leaders of his government. [Pakistani] President Zardari will be coming with leaders of his government. … The President will meet with both of his counterparts and will have some very intense sessions on the specifics of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Asked at his 100 day press conference this week about concern that if more of Pakistan falls to the Taliban would the country’s nuclear arsenal be able to be secured, President Barack Obama said he didn’t want to discuss the details, but he was confident that it would be.

Perhaps with a back up plan that looks to Gen. Kiyani.

UPDATE: A journalist colleague who is an expert on Pakistan points to this commentary from “a venerable Pakistani commentator,” Ardeshir Cowasjee, writing in the Dawn newspaper:

For those who have been wondering aloud whether President Obama has sent  out signals that the US may be well thinking of cutting its losses and handing over the country once more to the army, this can only be wishful thinking. Under the present circumstances with a civil war on its hands, how can it be expected to run the country? It has more than enough to swallow, motivating itself to take on the Taliban and to wipe out of its mind the old belief that India is about to pounce at any moment.

 

The House Foreign Affairs committee says Holbrooke is still scheduled to testify there Tuesday.

 

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