Pakistan

US ends post of special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan

WASHINGTON: The United States has reportedly eliminated the position of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan stepped down on Friday. A senior State Department official said that acting special representative Laurel Miller left the post without a replacement being named.

The move comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is conducting a broad review of the State Department’s organisational structure to streamline reporting channels, and potentially cutting several dozen similar senior positions.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Miller is returning to a position at the Rand Corporation and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has not yet decided what to do with post.

The decision to eliminate this particular post comes at a time when President Donald Trump’s administration is re-evaluating US military strategy in Afghanistan, potentially paving the way towards sending several thousand more troops to the country.

The Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan post was created in the early days of former President Barack Obama’s administration, ahead of a major troop surge in the Afghanistan War.

The post lost its prestige after Ambassador Richard Holbrooke — the powerhouse diplomat who first held the job — died in 2010 of a torn aorta. Holbrooke had been the Obama administration’s point man in the volatile Afghan-Pakistan war zone, and subsequent holders of the office were unable to match his influence.

President Donald Trump came to office planning to slash diplomatic spending and Tillerson plans to cut several special envoy roles. In congressional testimony last week, Tillerson said he was looking to cut back on special envoy and special representative positions in the agency to empower regional bureaus to take control of their issue areas.

A State Department spokesperson pushed back on the reports Friday, saying: “The secretary has not made a decision about the future of the office of the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

But the spokesperson added the department will maintain the Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs offices, which currently report to the special representative, to address policy concerns and the bilateral relationship with the countries.

Miller’s responsibilities will now fall under the department’s South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau, which has a much bigger footprint that includes India. The bureau is itself leaderless, with no assistant secretary appointed to lead it and no one nominated by the new administration for Senate approval.

Trump has given the Pentagon and US commanders wide latitude to decide on the future of Washington’s longest ever war — the 16-year slog in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is reportedly planning to deploy up to 5,000 extra troops to bolster efforts to train Afghan forces to repel a resurgent Taliban insurgency. – Agencies. 

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