In a surprising move, the State Department reportedly is getting rid of its special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Several reports on Friday indicate the move came without warning, even to rank-and-file diplomats at the State Department. But even if the efforts to eliminate the office are ham-fisted, it could be a smart move, helping eliminate redundancies at State that hamper effective coordination on South and Central Asia.
Former President Barack Obama began to slowly phase out the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) as he drew down U.S. military presence in the region. But it was designed to be a slow and deliberate process. This appears to be anything but.
“We’ve long planned for SRAP to go away, but the intention was for the policy to be transferred responsibly,” one U.S. diplomat told Politico. “This happened on less than 24 hours notice.”
One State Department source speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the State Department was mulling the move, but said it hadn’t yet made a final decision. The Wall Street Journal first reported State will eliminate the office on Friday. The State Department press office didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.
The wisdom or folly of getting rid of the office, first led by Richard Holbrooke, is hotly debated by former officials and experts.
Several former senior U.S. officials and military commanders told Foreign Policy that it could marginalize the administration’s attention on the region just as it considers bulking up its troop presence in Afghanistan, where the United States and its NATO allies have been fighting for 16 years.
David Barno, former senior American commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, called it a “bad move,” saying it takes away a “single focal point” in the State Department that looks at Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan as a whole. It also undercuts State’s clout in Afghanistan.
“The military now is in effect…