Tag Archives: Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke

Seasoned diplomat Richarad Holbrooke, President Obama’s Special Envoy to Paksitan and Afghanistan, passed away in Washington on Monday. He was 69 years old.

Mr. Holbrooke left a strong legacy of diplomatic achievements, most important of which being the Dayton agreement to end the bloody conflict in the Balkans. He also served as Deputy Secretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton.

A lot of expectations came with the job that Mr. Holbrooke took under President Obama– to coordinate the efforts in Afghanistan. Having established a reputation of being a tough negotiator,  the Ambassador was entrust the responsibility of working towards a solution in Afghanistan. But during his time, Mr. Holbrooke found it quite difficult there, causing tremendous strain in President Karzai’s relationship with the Obama administration.

One of the reasons given for why Mr. Holbrooke was frustrated in Afghanistan was his assertive– and at time bullying–style of diplomacy. It worked in the Balkans, but Afghanistan was different. The Ambassador was quite confident of himself and usually would not tone down his criticism of the players involved, particularly Karzai.  Jean Mackenzie at GlobalPost sums it up nicely:

Holbrooke’s last post, as the Obama administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, will most likely not figure among his finest hours. Long-time friend and colleague Peter Galbraith, who served as ambassador to Croatia while Holbrooke was negotiating an end to the Balkan war, told the BBC Monday evening that the Dayton Accords, signed in 1995 and effectively putting an end to hostilities in the three-year conflict in Yugoslavia, would serve as Holbrooke’s legacy….most observers acknowledge that Holbrooke was a problematic figure in both Kabul and Washington.

But one has to wonder whether it was Holbrooke or the awkward role that he was assigned that created the tensions. The Ambassador repeatedly declared that the military solution was not viable in Afghanistan, yet he found himself working a long side a massive military operation and trying to coordinate his efforts in that shadow. Perhaps, he would have been more effective if  reconciliation had been given a more prominent place in the policy, and if face to face negotiations with the Taliban had been taken up, what many intellectuals and experts are calling for right now.

While Mr. Holbrooke would have hoped for more concrete achievements in Afghanistan, his frustrating time there was not completely ineffective. He put tremendous pressure on President Karzai’s administration to cut down on corruption, and he spoke repeatedly for tackling the save heavens across the border in Pakistan. Above all, he assiduously spoke of a political solution, which might as well be the only way out of the war in Afghanistan..

Nick Kristof over at NYT pays  a heartfelt farewell to the Ambassador:

I’ve never met an abler diplomat, or a smarter one, than Richard Holbrooke. He was inevitably the brightest guy in the room, and usually the most pragmatic and hardest-working – and he was also a friend whom I admired hugely. His death today is a tremendous loss for all of us who knew him, and for the country as well. Richard never achieved his dream of becoming secretary of state, but he leaves a legacy around the world – from Bosnia to East Timor, from AIDS clinics in South Africa to his legions of followers in the United States – that exceeds that of many Secretaries of State. He was simply a legendary public servant, and an inspiration.

The Constitutional Struggle Over Election Results

Tensions are high over the results of parliamentary elections in Afghansitan (Photo: ToloNews)

On October 6, I went against the current and showed optimism in the parliamentary elections. I thought that in the given context, the voting process had not been as bad as certain news outlets made it to be. But I highlighted that the main challenge lay in how claims of fraud are dealt with. I wrote:

The next stage, of how the fraud is dealt with, is incredibly critical.

For a second time in a year, ordinary afghans have braved the threats to cast their votes. They have played their part in this flirt with democracy, but if serious action is not taken to ensure them that their voices matter, they will lose hope.  The future of the democratic system in Afghanistan will be in peril.

It is crucial that this time around the Afghan leadership really crack down on those who were involved in the fraud. For the sake of saving any hopes of democracy, the government and the leaders need to forget about their pride. They need to man up and accept that there were enormous shortcomings. Rather than questioning its extent and blaming others, they need to take action: punish those who committed systematic fraud, ban them from participating in politics, and perhaps even redo the voting process in certain districts with tighter security and anti-corruption measures. The people need to know that democracy is not corrupt and rotten, but individuals are. If this message is not clearly given to the Afghan people, any hopes of a democracy in the future will be childish.

Well, it turns out that I was overly optimistic. The post-voting process has been a complete shit-show. It is developing into a constitutional crisis.

The problem began with the province of Ghazni, where contenders from the ethnic minority Hazara won all the seats. The Pashtoon candidates claimed this was unfair for the fact that in most districts polling stations remained close due to Taliban threat. They claimed that a minority group could not represent the entire Province of Ghazni. President Karzai publicly sympathized with them, asking the Election Commission to find a legal solution that ensures “national unity.” Over this and many other, a massive heated and public argument has erupted between the Attorney General’s Office, the Election Commission and and the Electoral Complaints Commission .

The Attorney General’s office released arrest warrants for several members of these commissions and asked the Supreme Court to declare the election results as void. The Election Commission, in return, has questioned the legality of the Attorney General’s involvement in this matter. They claim that no authority can overrule their final announcement of the results.

Initially, the Election Commission remained calm and calculated in its response to the Attorney General’s calls. More recently, however, they have responded in very bold words. Fazel Ahmad Manawi, head of the commission, in his recent press conference accused the Attorney General’s office of “bullying that can lead to instability in the country.” He scorned the charge sheet sent to the supreme court which recommends the highest form of punishment [execution] for the 14 members accused.

Where will the legal argument lead? Does the Attorney General’s Office have the authority to question the results of the elections? Many believe  it does. The AG has presented criminal cases of fraud against top election officials as well as winning candidates. This seems within their bounds of authority. But Mr. Manawi, himself a former Supreme Court Justice, has challenged their authority on the grounds that the election law only gives the Election Complaints Commission the authority to call the results void.  Him being a prominent legal scholar and a former justice, one is tempted to believe that he,too, has strong reasons for his position. How will this public argument end? Hard to predict, but expect it to get eve more messier.

During all this, President Karzai has remained very quiet. Yes, he did sympathize with the losing Ghazni candidates, but since then he has said nothing bold. Waheed Omer, his spokesman, has insisted that the President will take no measures against the constitution. Yesterday, he declared more precisely that the President does not have the authority to call the results void. But is the Attorney General’s office doing his work for him? It seems so. The Attorney General has almost always acted in line with the President’s wishes. In this case, too, the President seems like he is raising his concern through the AG while maintaining an uninvolved public image.

Ambassador Stubborn Holbrooke

Karzai's rocky relationship with the west: Richard Holbrooke the cause? Mark Wilson/Getty Images/zimbio

Kai Eide, the former UN special representative to Afghanistan, has been very vocal in his criticism of the Obam Administration’s approach to the Karzai government. He has blamed Obama’s civil and military leaders for the continuous strain in the relationship with Kabul.

In a recent interview published by BBC Pashto, Mr. Eide was was especially critical of Obama’s envoy to South Asia, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.  Mr. Eide claimed that Holbrooke was stubborn and unaware of Afghan sensitivities.

“I think Holbrooke’s approach, especially at the beginnings of Obama administration,  was very harmful. He is a person who got very involved in the Presidential elections. I agree that a lot of wrongdoings happened in the elections. But foreigners like Holbrooke, too, got very involved. This became the source of the tensions that we have today.”

Some other key points from the interview:

–Mr. Eide disagreed with the decision for announcing withdrawal date, saying it has caused panic among European members of NATO. They, too, are looking for a way out now, which has strained the Afghan government’s trust in its international partners.

— On Karzai’s relationship to the West: “I agree that President Karzai’s approach has been lacking. But I also see that the international community’s approach towards him, especially the United States’,  has played a major role in straining the relationship between Karzai and the West. And they do not realize that they have let down and distanced not only Karzai but also other leaders in that country, which can affect the larger population too. You can’t go into the country and say: I am your guest, but I will be dictating terms here based on my own ideas. These things won’t work in Afghanistan. I have said this at the Security Council also, and the US Ambassador in Kabul, Eikenberry, agrees with me. But no one listens to him either.”

— “Its imperative that leaders, especially those in Washington, learn the art of learning and listening.  When the Obama administration took over, they distinguished themselves from the previous administration in the fact that they will listen to others. Unfortunately, that’s not what I see. And this factor has played a major role in why we are in a mess today”