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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Afghanistan

Life after Holbrooke, Pakistan’s Protector

December 14, 2010 - 3:35 PM | by: Dominic Di-Natale

ISLAMABAD, Dec 14 – Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen appeared here today, 24 hours after the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan clashed with Pakistan’s own military chief over what the U.S. considers is this country’s indifference to eradicating Islamic militant groups.

Adding to the pressure on the authorities is the shocking defection by Pakistan’s leading Islamist party from the coalition government to the opposition after their minister became embroiled in a corruption scandal.

Enraged Islamists in this deeply anti-American nuclear-armed nation could cause a crisis for the pro-Western government, confidence in which is plummeting at a daily rate and threatening the little stability Pakistan barely clings to.

These latest developments will set alarm bells ringing louder than usual for Washington following the sudden death on Sunday of President Obama’s special envoy to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke.

Holbrooke, who was 69, had played a pivotal role in keeping America’s muddled foreign policy in this region from unraveling completely. His formidable, hard-nosed negotiating skills – often described as borderline bullying – were counterbalanced by a deeply humane sense of compassion and empathy towards those bound up in the bewildering complexity of cultures, ideologies and egos.

Before Ambassador Holbrooke has even be laid to rest, concerns are being voiced over who the President Obama selects to replace him.

Those voices rise loudest none more so than here in Pakistan, where Holbrooke convinced Congress on bended knee to pump billions into non-military projects to fight rising popular support for militants. His untimely passing comes as the country is teetering in the most precarious position it has faced since the assassination of former president Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

As my video report below explains, his replacement must be a carefully crafted choice that please more than one master if America wants to help prevent a political and military implosion in South Asia.

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