Holbrooke’s legacy

Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, passed away on Monday. He was 69. President Asif Ali Zardari called him “a personal friend of Pakistan” and said that Mr Holbrooke’s “untiring efforts to enhance US-Pakistan relations and his assistance during the Swat crisis and the devastating floods that have affected Pakistan will never be forgotten”. The president conferred the Hilal-e-Pakistan upon Ambassador Holbrooke posthumously for his commendable services to strengthen Pak-US bilateral relations. Mr Holbrooke was indeed a valuable asset to Pak-US ties and was liked by both the civilian government as well as our defence establishment.

Richard Holbrooke was once described by former US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, as “the diplomatic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb”. His diplomatic career spans several decades during which he served the US around the globe. Apart from serving as a junior diplomat in South Vietnam and US ambassador to Germany, he was the US Assistant Secretary of State for Asia and later Europe. One of his most important accomplishments was the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 that finally brought peace to Bosnia-Herzegovina. In recent times, he tried to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan and advocated that a political settlement must be sought there. He came to this conclusion because of his considerable experience in diplomacy. His views on AfPak were sometimes criticised in Afghanistan because he was thought to be closer to the Pakistani establishment. But if truth be told, Mr Holbrooke was not off the mark when he changed the ‘transactional’ relationship between the US and Pakistan by bringing about a mind-shift and advocating a long term strategic relationship instead. Pakistanis often criticise the US for being a ‘fair weather friend’ but it is because of Mr Holbrooke’s efforts that now the US is looking for an abiding and consistent relationship with Pakistan by engaging with our civilian government and civil society.

Mr Holbrooke’s legacy in the AfPak region is of great importance. The US now understands that it cannot leave Afghanistan in a hurry and will have to train and support the Afghan forces until they are fully prepared to take over. His death has indeed left a great void in US diplomacy, but whether Holbrooke’s legacy will last cannot be said with certainty. The double games being played by our security establishment may jeopardise what Holbrooke envisioned for this region. It is hoped that the establishment realises Holbrooke’s contributions and does not end up reversing his legacy.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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