WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday named James Dobbins, an experienced diplomat with a history of difficult assignments from Kosovo to Somalia, as his special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“This is a pivotal moment for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, with interconnected political, security and economic transitions already under way in Afghanistan, and Pakistani elections just days away, marking an important and historic democratic transition,” Kerry said in a statement released by the State Department.

Dobbins, 70, a former assistant secretary of state for European affairs and ambassador to the European Union, is expected to confront a fraught relationship between Washington and Islamabad, as well as a rapidly dwindling American military presence in Afghanistan.

The special representative post was first held by Richard Holbrooke, a flamboyant diplomat who assembled an extensive staff at the State Department and threw himself into a broad range of political and development issues in Afghanistan.

After Holbrooke’s death in December 2010, the job went to Marc Grossman, another career diplomat who devoted his tenure to efforts, ultimately fruitless, to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban. Grossman is said to have deliberately cultivated a lower profile than Holbrooke, scaling back his staff and negotiating behind closed doors.

Dobbins, who is currently the director of the RAND International Security and Defence Policy Center, a Washington-based think-tank, has plenty of experience with diplomatic troubleshooting, including in Afghanistan.

During the Bill Clinton and George Bush administrations, he served as an envoy to Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti, as well as to Somalia, where he oversaw the withdrawal of American troops.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, Bush appointed him as the American representative to the Afghan opposition, and he took part in the Bonn conference in late 2001, at which a new post-Taliban Afghan government was named.

Secretary Kerry said he had made it a priority to find the right person for the job, adding Dobbins would “continue building on diplomatic efforts to bring the conflict to a peaceful conclusion.”