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So You Want to Be a Special Envoy...

Author: Daniel S. Markey, Adjunct Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia
January 2009
Foreign Policy


Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton Accords ending the slaughter in Bosnia, is likely to be Obama's point man on the crisis in South Asia. Here's how he can ensure that his tough new mission ends in success.

Dear Ambassador Holbrooke:

Congratulations--you are likely to be appointed U.S. special envoy to South Asia. Your new portfolio includes many of the world's most dangerous, intractable, and urgent threats: a messy war in Afghanistan, nuclear-armed neighbors in Pakistan and India, the home base for global terrorist networks, and well over a billion people facing nearly every combination of political and economic-development challenge you can imagine.

Your considerable talents as a seasoned diplomat and tough negotiator will be essential as you confront these challenges, but not in the manner many people expect. The problems of South Asia are not especially amenable to U.S. shuttle diplomacy. Yes, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan could all use a little encouragement in resolving their long-standing territorial disputes. But no amount of U.S. browbeating or inducement will overcome regional intransigence on issues such as Kashmir or the Durand Line. History suggests that greater U.S. involvement might instead backfire, alienating our partners in New Delhi, Islamabad, and Kabul without jarring loose meaningful new compromises. When push comes to shove, all of these states care more about their own regional goals than we do, and they know it.



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