State Department Af-Pak chief stepping down

State Department Af-Pak chief stepping down

The State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman will be leaving the Obama administration next month, The Cable has confirmed.

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Grossman to come out of retirement and take over the SRAP office in 2011 following the untimely death of Richard Holbrooke, both parties agreed that the posting would be for about two years. Now, after almost two years in the position and with her consent, Grossman has decided to return to private life, SRAP Spokeswoman Eileen O’Conner told The Cable today.

"The secretary thanks Ambassador Grossman for his efforts to help create the diplomatic surge that Secretary Clinton laid out in her 2011 speech at the Asia Society," O’Conner said. "What you’ve seen over the last year is his effort to lead a diplomatic campaign which put in place a network of regional and international support for Afghanistan post 2014 and into the next decade."

O’Conner referenced the international meetings on Afghanistan held in Bonn, Germany, and Tokyo, Japan, to establish international funding commitments for Afghanistan’s future security and economic prosperity. She also noted Grossman’s efforts in support of the Security Partnership Agreement that President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed in May, which commits the United States to supporting Afghan security through 2024.

Grossman’s team is now negotiating the follow-on Bilateral Security Agreement that will establish the number and role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beginning in 2015. Grossman’s deputy, James Warlick, is the lead U.S. negotiator for those talks. The second round is scheduled for next month in Kabul.

Grossman also led a secretive but extensive diplomatic outreach initiative to the Taliban that included several trips to Germany and Qatar in pursuit of a deal meant to create confidence for peace talks to end the Afghan war. The negotiations failed in March after the Taliban pulled away from the first confidence-building measure, which was to include the release of five Taliban commanders from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for the release of U.S. Army Private Bowe Bergdahl, the only U.S. soldier in Taliban custody.

The State Department downplayed the apparent failure of those efforts Tuesday, however.

"His work set has helped the conditions for an Afghan peace process that is enabling Afghans to talk with other Afghans in pursuit of a negotiated settlement to end decades of conflict," O’Conner said.

Grossman had a rocky relationship with the Pakistani government, mostly because his tenure overlapped with a period of steep decline in U.S.-Pakistan relations. Grossman was tasked with setting U.S.-Pakistan political relations back on track after months of problems between the two countries, a mission O’Conner said found some success.

"Ambassador Grossman worked on the relationship with Pakistan with his focus based on identifying where our shared interests are and working on those shared interests jointly. There is a lot of progress in that area," she said.

Ambassador David Pearce, the former deputy chief of mission in Kabul who joined SRAP in July as Grossman’s senior deputy, will take over as acting SRAP when Grossman leaves. Grossman told his staff in a meeting Tuesday that his last day will be Dec. 14.

Some have speculated that the role of the SRAP office, which has already been scaled down since the Holbrooke era, may diminish further as the Afghanistan mission peters out and the prospect of peace talks with the Taliban dwindles. Some say SRAP and the Bureau of South and Central Asia should be merged into one cohesive entity.

"That’s going to be something that’s left up to whoever the new secretary is and the president," O’Conner said.