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US envoy to hold election talks in Pak

US special envoy Richard Holbrooke will today hold talks with Pakistani leaders on the security situation in the northwest and tribal regions as elections loom in neighbouring Afghanistan.

world Updated: Aug 16, 2009 11:56 IST

US special envoy Richard Holbrooke will on Sunday hold talks with Pakistani leaders on the security situation in the northwest and tribal regions as elections loom in neighbouring Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama's top troubleshooter for the Muslim neighbours arrived late Saturday on his second visit in less than a month, as the White House puts Pakistan at the heart of its fight against Islamist extremists.

During his three-day stint in Islamabad, Holbrooke will meet President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani.

"The talks will focus on a range of issues including rehabilitation of displaced people, the security situation in the northwest and tribal regions and presidential elections in Afghanistan," a foreign ministry official said.

Confirming Holbrooke's arrival, US embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire told AFP: "He is going to meet most senior-level officials during his stay."

Pakistan has launched an offensive against Taliban rebels hiding out in the northwest and the tribal belt stringing Afghanistan, believed to be a bolt hole for Al-Qaeda rebels who Washington says are plotting attacks on the West.

In an apparent blow for the militants, Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was last week reported killed in a US drone missile strike in South Waziristan, although both countries have stopped short of confirming his death.

Holbrooke's trip also comes days ahead of August 20 presidential and provincial elections in Afghanistan, seen as a key test of NATO- and US-driven efforts to bring peace and democracy to the war-scarred nation.

But the polls come as violence by the Taliban and other extremist groups spirals, raising fears that Afghans will be afraid to turn out to vote, throwing into question the legitimacy of the elections.

On Saturday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside the NATO military headquarters in Kabul, killing seven Afghans in an attack that further raised alarm bells days before the nation's second presidential election.

Obama, unveiling his strategy earlier this year to turn around the Afghan war, put Pakistan at the heart of the fight to defeat Al-Qaeda and vowed to boost US aid and assistance for the nuclear-armed Muslim nation.

In early July, the US military launched one of its biggest offensives in Afghanistan, flying 4,000 US Marines into battle against the Taliban in Helmand, just across the border from Pakistan's insurgency-plagued southwest.

The US said it was sharing information with Islamabad about the offensive after Pakistani officials voiced fears that militants cross into Baluchistan province, already gripped by Islamist, sectarian and regional violence.

Holbrooke's last Pakistan trip was focused on the plight of 1.9 million people displaced by fighting against Taliban in the northwest of the country, and the issue would be raised again, officials said.

The Pakistani army launched an offensive in late April to dislodge Taliban guerrillas from the districts of Buner, Lower Dir and Swat after rebels flouted a peace deal and marched further south towards Islamabad.

Pakistan says the offensive killed more than 1,800 militants and 166 security personnel - death tolls impossible to verify independently - and Gilani announced that the military had "eliminated" extremists.