How hard is Richard Holbrooke's mission of "fixing" Pakistan and Afghanistan? Today's Times reminds us:

In recent years, there have been some significant successes in the hunt for Taliban leaders. Pakistani operatives tracked Mullah Dadullah, a senior aide to Mullah Omar, as he crossed the Afghan border in May 2007, and he was later killed by American and Afghan troops.

Yet most of the arrests in Pakistan have coincided with visits by senior American officials.

The arrest of Mullah Obeidullah, the former Taliban defense minister, in Quetta in February 2007 coincided with the visit of Vice President Dick Cheney to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is unclear whether Mullah Obeidullah is still in Pakistani custody or was secretly released as part of a prisoner exchange to free Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, who was kidnapped last February and released three months later.

Mullah Rahim, the Taliban’s top commander in Helmand Province, was arrested in Quetta last summer two weeks after Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a top C.I.A. officer visited Islamabad to confront Pakistani leaders with evidence of ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas. But an American intelligence official said last week that Mullah Rahim was no longer in custody.

You just don't change an institutional culture like that overnight, if ever.

Photo: New US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke (R) listens to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (L) during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on February 10, 2009. The US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan met key leaders in Islamabad as part of a major US policy review aimed at turning around the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in South Asia. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

--Michael Crowley