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Report: It’s time for State’s South Asia bureau and the Af-Pak office to make up and get back together

Report: It’s time for State’s South Asia bureau and the Af-Pak office to make up and get back together

When the late Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) Richard Holbrooke created the SRAP office at the State Department, he took a big chunk of the authority and staff from the Bureau of South and Central Asia (SCA). But now that he’s gone and the Afghanistan war is maybe, possibly, starting to wind down, the two bureaus should move toward a reunion, the State Department’s Inspector General said in a new report released today.

"Communications between SCA and S/SRAP have not been as effective as they could be," the report stated. "With a likely transition of the [Afghanistan and Pakistan] desks and other S/SRAP responsibilities back to SCA in the next several years, SCA needs to begin to be more broadly engaged in or aware of S/SRAP programs and activities that it may inherit at that time."

When Holbrooke entered the Obama administration, he hired 28 staffers — none of them from SCA –and then told SCA that the bureau no longer had any control over Afghanistan or Pakistan and its current Af-Pak staffers now worked for him. The Nelson Report’s Chris Nelson described a February 2009 meeting, which he dubbed the "Grand Confrontation," in which Holbrooke beat down attempts by then-SCA Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher to hold on to his Af-Pak personnel.

"At a summit in Boucher’s office with the assembled DAS’s [deputy assistant secretaries], et al, Boucher said something to the effect, ‘As you know, you work for me, and you will continue to report TO me, is that clear?’" Nelson reported. "Holbrooke, not looking at Boucher, responded directly to the stunned staffers with, ‘What part of ‘you will report directly to ME did you NOT understand?’, and there the meeting ended."

Boucher left later that year to become deputy secretary general of the OSCE and was replaced by Robert Blake.

With the looming figure of Holbrooke gone, SRAP’s activities, now guided by Marc Grossman, have been pared down. The office has been directed to focus on Afghan reconciliation, which apparently isn’t going well. The report often mentions that the key official in charge of coordinating between SRAP and SCA is a Deputy SRAP who is dual-hatted as a DAS in SCA; that’s  Frank Ruggiero.

The coordination between SRAP and SCA has actually gotten worse since Holbrooke’s death, according to the Inspector General. For example, SRAP and SCA hold their weekly meetings at the same time, so nobody can attend both, and SRAP involvement in SCA work has trailed off.

"The flow of communication between SCA and S/SRAP is inadequate, as is SCA’s awareness of S/SRAP programs and activities in such areas as strategic communications and regional economic issues," the report said.

But the report treats the eventual incorporation of SRAP back into SCA as inevitable, and advises both sides to start preparing for it.

 "When the transition takes place, SCA’s awareness of S/SRAP programs and activities will be essential for continuity. To meet its responsibilities, SCA – particularly the bureau’s DASes and office directors – will need to be aware of and participate in appropriate S/SRAP meetings and events."