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Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

Holbrooke on key Pakistan visit

Richard Holbrooke, file pic
Richard Holbrooke has said Pakistan's situation is "dire"

The new US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, has arrived in Islamabad, vowing to "listen and learn" about the region.

He said Pakistan was a "critically important country" and stressed again that the US was reviewing its policies.

Mr Holbrooke is seen as a diplomatic heavyweight and an architect of the peace in Bosnia.

Meanwhile the UK has announced that its Afghan ambassador, Sherard Cowper-Coles, will also now be a joint envoy.

'Alarm bells'

Mr Holbrooke said in a statement released by the embassy on his arrival: "I am here to listen and learn the ground realities of this critically important country.

"The United States looks forward to reviewing our policies and renewing our commitment and friendship with the people of Pakistan."

Mr Holbrooke will be meeting President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to discuss tackling militancy in the region.

On Sunday Mr Holbrooke said countries bordering Afghanistan must become part of the solution to its problems.

He said Afghanistan would be "much tougher" than Iraq and that he had "never seen anything like the mess we have inherited".

Mr Holbrooke's agenda in Pakistan will also be tough. On Sunday he said the situation in the country was "dire" and that Islamabad needed "international assistance, international sympathy and international support".

The US has frequently urged Pakistan to do more to tackle militants and the recent release of disgraced nuclear scientist AQ Khan from house arrest has also concerned Washington.

Pakistan in turn has repeatedly criticised US drone attacks on militants in its territory.

The fallout from the Mumbai (Bombay) attacks will also be on the agenda.

Mr Holbrooke will report back to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after his trip ends.

In an interview released on Monday Mrs Clinton says she opted for a joint Pakistan-Afghan envoy because of the bad blood between the nations.

She told the New York Times that in 2007 she held conversations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and "each complained at length about the other, and it raised alarm bells in my mind".

Meanwhile the UK said Mr Cowper-Coles would work in tandem with Mr Holbrooke.

He would "build consensus and support for the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan", the Foreign Office said.

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