Veteran US diplomat Richard Holbrooke dies

Published: December 15, 2010
US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke passed away on December 13, 2010. PHOTO: AFP

US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke passed away on December 13, 2010. PHOTO: AFP


Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and a key figure in the 1995 peace agreement that ended three years of war in Bosnia, died on Monday from a heart ailment.

Holbrooke, 69, died after undergoing surgery for a torn aorta at a Washington hospital. He fell ill on Friday while working at the State Department on the building’s seventh floor where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her office.

His death comes at a critical time for US policy, with the US administration due to conduct a review of its troop surge in Afghanistan and campaign against the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Obama called him “a towering figure in American foreign policy, a critical member of my Afghanistan and Pakistan team, and a tireless public servant who has won the admiration of the American people and people around the world.”

Just before Holbrooke’s death, Obama had told members of his family at a State Department holiday reception just hours earlier: “America is more secure and the world is a safer place because of the work of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.”

A hard-nosed trouble shooter, Holbrooke is perhaps best known for brokering the 1995 peace agreement that ended three years of war in Bosnia.

Dubbed “the bulldozer” for his impatient, hard-charging style, Holbrooke alternately browbeat and cajoled the nationalist leaders of former Yugoslavia until he succeeded in forging a peace deal in November 1995 in Dayton, Ohio, following a round of Nato air strikes against Serb forces.

The Dayton agreement, despite criticism, has held the shaky Bosnian state together despite persistent tensions among rival communities. After the signing of the peace agreement, Holbrooke recounted the roller-coaster negotiations in a well-received book, “To End a War,” in which he argued the case for a robust US foreign policy that includes a readiness for military action to prevent possible genocide.

Holbrooke was quoted by the BBC as saying he had no qualms about negotiating with “people who do immoral things.”

“If you can prevent the deaths of people still alive, you’re not doing a disservice to those already killed by trying to do so,” he said. “And so I make no apologies for negotiating with Milosevic and even worse people, provided one doesn’t lose one’s point of view.”

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize seven times, he was once called “Washington’s favorite last-ditch diplomat” by Time magazine.

Known for his tenacity, intelligence and charm, Holbrooke held some of the most important jobs in US diplomacy, including assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and European and Canadian affairs.

Some analysts believe Holbrooke achieved at best mixed results on US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan and that his influence had waned.

He had a strained relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who held on to power in elections last year that were marred by widespread reports of fraud.  “We are saddened by his death, it is a big loss. He had done great services for Afghanistan,” said Siyamak Herawi, a spokesperson for Karzai.

Born in April 24, 1941 in New York, Holbrooke began his diplomatic career at the age of 21 in Vietnam, and rose quickly to key posts in president Lyndon B Johnson’s administration during the trauma of the Vietnam war.

Holbrooke, who has two sons, married in 1994 his third wife, Kati Marton, a writer and former journalist.]

Global reaction:

President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan has lost a friend. He was an accomplished and experienced diplomat, who quickly gained the confidence of his interlocutors. The best tribute to him is to reiterate our resolve to root out extremism and usher in peace.

US President Barack Obama

Tonight, there are millions of people around the world whose lives have been saved and enriched by his work.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Tonight America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants. He was one of a kind, a true statesman – and that makes his passing all the more painful.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu

We express condolences over the death of Mr Holbrooke and express sympathy to his family.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague

Ambassador Holbrooke was truly one of the best and the brightest of his generation.

NATO Secretary- General Fogh Rasmussen

He knew that history is unpredictable; that we sometimes have to defend our security by facing conflicts in distant places; and that the transatlantic alliance remains indispensible.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Holbrooke was an experienced and skilled diplomat of American politics, who during his service served greatly the American people.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt

Soldiers die in battle, but diplomats seldom do. Richard Holbrooke was I think an exception in this respect. He died in the middle of one of modern diplomacy’s most difficult and most important battles.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was a remarkable man, a true diplomat and a champion of peace and reconciliation, not just in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but throughout the world.

US Senator John Kerry

He was always a man on a mission, the toughest mission, and that mission was waging peace through tough as nails, never quiet, diplomacy.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • NaK
    Dec 14, 2010 - 9:58AM

    Nice person, did good job in our favor.Recommend

  • NaK
    Dec 14, 2010 - 10:08AM

    Nice person, did good job for both countries, his work was really Appreciate-able, during flood he did lots of work here.Recommend

  • @@
    Dec 14, 2010 - 10:27AM

    I am sorry but Tribune posted this news just 33 mins ago …which is quite late for an online edition … I had to refer to DAWN again … Pls Improve the news promptness, we have great expectations for TRIBUNE. Recommend

  • Humanity
    Dec 14, 2010 - 10:35AM

    A larger than life figure, a steward of peace and support for the underdog. This is surely a setback for the Af-Pak diplomacy as his is a difficult act to follow. RIP, Mr. Holbrooke, you will be missed :(Recommend

  • Aamer Riaz
    Dec 14, 2010 - 10:47AM

    It’s a shock. He was a nice guy.Recommend

  • Umayr Masud
    Dec 14, 2010 - 10:52AM

    Rest in Peace. He was more committed to solving this issue than the current regimes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Recommend

  • R.Raheem
    Dec 14, 2010 - 11:00AM

    Outstanding Person! Honest,dedicated & who really deep down had the commitment to end the bloodshed in Pakistan & USA. May God rest his soul. My deepest sympathies to his family & to Americans. These kind of persons are very rare in this world. Sad day for the world.Recommend

  • zaigham
    Dec 14, 2010 - 11:32AM

    are we forgetting something?
    wasn’t he the Balkaniser and sent to do the same more or less?Recommend

  • zaigham
    Dec 14, 2010 - 11:33AM

    anyways rip…Recommend

  • Critic
    Dec 14, 2010 - 1:57PM

    Even though I did not agree with some of his politicies, especially in regard to the coinage of the so-called term ‘AfPak’, his death is indeed a sad event.Recommend

  • Dec 14, 2010 - 2:08PM

    Yes! He was a nice guy!. Thanks to him thousands of Pakistanis became targets of Drone Strikes…Recommend

  • Amer
    Dec 14, 2010 - 2:28PM

    The Washington Post reports that Holbrooke’s last words came just before the 21-hour operation:
    As Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon, family members said: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

  • Nasir Ali Khan
    Dec 14, 2010 - 2:42PM

    I can vouch for the fact that he played a major role in making sure that, as much as possible, the civilian assistance to Pakistan would be delivered through local institutions! This was a big step in the right direction. I also have fond memories of him tirelessly skipping from one GCC capital to another trying to get them to contribute to the IDP effort during the military action in Malakand. We have lost a friend. May he rest in peace. Recommend

  • Iqbal Khan
    Dec 14, 2010 - 5:09PM

    Sad to know about the demise of a diplomatic guru !!!!Recommend

  • KNS
    Dec 14, 2010 - 6:02PM

    We should half mast our flag in mourning of our beloved Viceroy Recommend

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Dec 14, 2010 - 6:08PM

    It is sad to learn about the untimely death of Mr. Richard Holbrooke.

    May Al-Mighty God rest his soul in peace and give courage to his family members to bear the irreparable loss. Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Dec 14, 2010 - 6:40PM

    Most of the time he favored Pakistan.Nice person.Recommend

  • Mustafa Maharvi
    Dec 14, 2010 - 7:00PM

    What breaks the heart are the tiny fragments of the man that continue to shine on in our memories. Incongruous and unexpected bits and pieces of a life. Mischievousness and warmth. Bursts of irresistible enthusiasm. insights so sharp you could cut yourself on them. Those things don’t translate so well. But with a guy who touched as many lives as did Holbrooke, they are the reason today that so many eulogies will be written or spoken or just quietly considered. Some tinged with regret, some with the phantom pain of old wounds. Some with glittering memories or gratitude. But all with an unmistakable sense of the loss of a great, wise man who will be sorely missed and who by departing with uncharacteristically bad timing has made the work of the world more than a little bit harder.Recommend

  • Dec 15, 2010 - 1:39AM
  • Ducky
    Dec 15, 2010 - 3:15AM

    The pressure got to him… Poor guyRecommend

  • Nasir Ali Khan
    Dec 15, 2010 - 6:23AM

    Mustard Maharvi should have given credit to David Rothkopf from whose eulogy in Foreign Policy Magazine this above comment has been copied verbatim!Recommend

  • Mustafa Maharvi
    Dec 15, 2010 - 6:11PM

    @Nasir Ali Khan,
    Thank you for the credit. Yes its true. Recommend

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