News / USA

Holbrooke Death Leaves Vacuum at Center of Afghan Policy

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (file photo)
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (file photo)
Gary Thomas

The sudden death of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke comes at a crucial moment in U.S. policymaking in South Asia, just when the Obama Administration is wrapping up its review of strategy in Afghanistan. Holbrooke was at the center of piecing together a strategy and policy for Afghanistan and left his biggest challenges unfinished.

Richard Holbrooke was known in some circles as "the Bulldozer" because of his ability to get warring parties to sit down and settle their dispute.

Undoubtedly, his crowning achievement was the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia.  Through his relentless prodding and cajoling, an agreement was signed Dec. 14, 1995.  He died one day short of the 15th anniversary of that achievement.

Watch Ravi Khanna's Companion TV Report:

U.S. Army War College professor Larry Goodson says there were hopes that Holbrooke could bring those same skills to bear on the knotty interlocked problems of Afghanistan and its neighbor, Pakistan. "A lot of people thought that the skill set that he demonstrated in regard to the Dayton Accords or at the United Nations - at several points in his career, but most especially with regard to Dayton - that those were the kinds of things that he could have brought or was bringing or might yet have brought to Afghanistan in a useful way," he said.

But could Holbrooke have brokered a peace deal in Afghanistan as he did in Dayton?  Not likely, says former deputy assistant secretary of state Teresita Schaffer.

"In the Balkans you could identify the three biggest thugs you could put into a room and butt heads.  In Afghanistan, there are far more moving parts than that, and I think he found this a real challenge.  I understand he said as much to other people.  So I don't know if he would have figured out a way of sort of forcing the issue.  But Afghanistan is notoriously resistance to forcing," she said.

Afghanistan is at something of a crossroads as the U.S. looks to begin withdrawing or at least redeploying some of its forces next year and increasingly hand over security responsibilities to Afghans.  But officials have said the training of those police and soldiers has been slow.  In addition, talk has been increasing of a political settlement between President Hamid Karzai and at least some elements of the Taliban.

Holbrooke could be dazzling or abrasive, according to published reports and political sources.  He is reported to have clashed with President Karzai, especially when Holbrooke pushed the Afghan leader to crack down on corruption, as well as with President Obama's then-national security advisor, James Jones.

In January, 2009, Holbrooke was named to the newly-created post of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It was an ill-defined job overseeing problems of immense complexity, but analysts say he made it his own.

Larry Goodson says what he called this "towering figure" was awkwardly caught between embassies in Kabul and Islamabad and reporting directly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"I think that he had a certain latitude. But at the same time, I think that they were really building the structure of this as they went along because you have the Afghan mission [embassy], the Pakistan mission [embassy], and now you have this almost larger than anyone else figure of American diplomacy being given the responsibility to sort of do something kind of undefined in the middle," he said.

Teresita Schaffer says Holbrooke will be missed as he was the glue holding together much of the day-to-day mechanics of U.S. Afghan and Pakistani policy.

"I think the biggest impact of the loss of Holbrooke is actually going to be on the way the U.S. government organizes for this enterprise because he was such a dominant presence.  He controlled all assignments; he did resource allocation; he did resource mobilization; he pulled the policy process together.  And while I'm sure that a lot of that will all go on, there won't be one of these towering figures making it all happen," she said.

It is not known when a permanent replacement for the Special Representative post will be named.

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More