Remembering Richard Holbrooke: The Diplomat Who Ended a War


Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010) - Source: WikiCommons/USFG

One of the most prolific, multi-dimensional and influential diplomats in the recent US history, Richard Holbrooke, passed away on December 13, 2010. He was the US Ambassador for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Richard Holbrooke died after he had suffered a torn aorta. He was 69 at the time of his death, and his memorial service was held on January 14, 2011.

There can be two kinds of people who could have problems with people admiring Richard Holbrooke. The people who have problems with anyone making efforts to stop wars, and those who are blindly Anti-American.

But not everyone criticizing the US policies is Anti-American. I am a critic of US policies as well, but that does not make me Anti-American, because if that is not the case, then I am Anti-Pakistan too, because I criticize the Pakistani government and some of their policies as well.

But I admire Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

He helped the United States intervene in the volatile and rather inhumane situation in the Balkans, when the local pressure prevented President Bill Clinton to intervene, especially militarily. It was one of the very few times in history when the United States made a correct decision of intervention, the one which could be considered responsible, if not anything else. Here, the critics could make the point that why the instrument of intervening in foreign affairs is being approved here while criticized at other instances.

It depends on the case and the motives.

Bosnians would have survived without a NATO intervention, maybe not with a separate country, although ethnically cleansed in much larger numbers than what resulted after it. But it is not about having a war, or breaking or making a country. It is about stopping an ongoing conflict, and diplomacy played a much larger role in it than any NATO air strikes. Remember, the UN peace keeping forces were deployed in the region at the time? But some could say that the US used the conflict as an excuse of increasing its influence in the region.

It was an unfortunate conflict which thankfully came to an end, preventing more lives from going to waste.

Of course, war is not something you could be proud of or approve. Richard Holbrooke was apparently not pro-war, he just wanted things to calm down there, and the events led to the conclusion of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which came as a sigh of relief for the war-torn and shattered people of Yugoslavia, particularly that of Bosnia & Herzegovina, who were the primary victims of the Bosnian War, while also not forgetting the people of the Albanian province Kosovo.

While the Serbs would not see the role played by Holbrooke as the one which favored them, but keeping nationalism aside, they should know that it would certainly be incorrect if anyone implies that the Serb people were to be blamed for the actions of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, who had been coexisting with other Yugoslavian ethnic groups. That idea would be as horrifying as the conflict itself.

One of the signs that Richard Holbrooke was not fond of wars were his last recorded words, which have been frequently broadcasted, published and discussed ever since:

You have got to stop this war in Afghanistan.

A War which has caused thousands of civilian casualties since October 7, 2001, not even accounted for accurately, and has led to the loss of lives of no less than 1,472 American military personnel and 843 soldiers from other coalition countries, according to To many, it is a war in which the allies are making little progress on the military front, with the war only consuming billions of dollars from the pocket of the American tax-payer.

Maybe it is just to prevent the Taliban from capturing power again, the very same force, which was on the forefront in fighting the USSR in Afghanistan in the conflict that lasted from 1979 to 1989. They were armed by the United States through their allies, especially their regional periphery, Pakistan. But undoubtedly, it is being carried on to protect the US interests in the region.

Many take it as a comic interchange between Holbrooke and his Pakistani surgeon who was sedating him, but I take it as a serious warning from a dying man. You never lie in your deathbed, and especially if you know as much about what is going on as Richard Holbrooke, whose health was eaten up by the pressures and tensions of the assignment of the Special Ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan. By the way, he disapproved the public use of the term “AfPak“.

Of course, with such a job as being a diplomat, and participating in and influencing the major decision-making in different points of time in history with leading Democratic figures in office, a person’s record for peace is always considered doubtful by skeptics and critics. But to many, that is not even a question to worry about, just something that I am imagining that some of you could ask.

But Diplomacy is not all about wars, attacking other nations and killing people, it is also about saving lives.  We have little idea how many lives diplomacy saves around the world every passing year, and as you are reading these lines. This is exactly why in this peace, I am not really focusing on the rest of the career of Richard Holbrooke, but the part which he loved to talk about the most. The Dayton Peace Agreement. His memoirs for that campaign are titled “To End a War“. Speaks volumes about how he took it.

Therefore, I find it my duty to talk about his contribution in the Dayton Peace Agreement.

It is written in the Talmud and the Koran.

Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a great man and a great diplomat, will always be remembered for saving a human life, in fact many human lives, and therefore, the world entire.

This, I believe, is how he would have wanted to be remembered.

One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Freedom Fighter and Freedom Fighter, Haroon Riaz. Haroon Riaz said: Diplomats can save lives too. – – #Pakistan #USA #Diplomacy #justsaying #RaymondDavis […]

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