US President Barack Obama was right when he described Richard Holbrooke, the US’ special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, as "a towering figure" in American foreign policy.
The veteran US diplomat has died following a second round of surgery to treat a torn aorta. Holbrooke had fallen ill last week while meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the US State Department.
Holbrooke’s death came a few days before the Obama administration was scheduled to unveil its latest review of US policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The 69-year-old diplomat is best known for spearheading the end of the three-year-long war in Bosnia. His experience spanned from the Vietnam War era to the post-9/11 period. Holbrooke, whose nicknames were "The Bulldozer" and "Raging Bull”, is known for dealing with warring leaders to make them come to the negotiating table. This quality of his was being tested in bringing the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan come together to counter al Qaeda and Taliban.
Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke was born in New York City on April 24, 1941. Educated at Brown University, the man of German-Jewish descent married writer Kati Marton.
Holbrooke`s diplomatic career began in Vietnam in 1962, where he tried to save a war gone wrong. He later served as assistant secretary of state for Asian affairs from 1977-81 and then as US ambassador to Germany from 1993 to 1994.
During his stint as assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs between 1994 and 1996 under US President Bill Clinton, he was a part of the delegation that negotiated peace in Bosnia.
After leaving the State Department in 1996, Holbrooke took a Wall Street job with Credit Suisse First Boston. However, he continued to be a part of international diplomacy by being "special envoy to Bosnia and Kosovo" and special envoy to Cyprus on a pro-bono basis while as a private citizen.
Holbrooke also served as US ambassador to the United Nations from 1999-2001. After that, he took up the post as vice-chairman for a private equity firm. He worked under every Democratic president from John F Kennedy to Barack Obama.
Known as one of the toughest US diplomats, Holbrooke was chosen as US’ special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009. Despite knowing the fragile nature of ties between the US and Afghanistan, Holbrooke did not shy away from raising concerns about fraud in 2009 Afghan presidential elections.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in an interview called Holbrooke an "extremely hard-working man" who can "get things done which would otherwise take weeks to get through”.
The feisty diplomat was very sharp and peculiar in detailing things. He understood the region and the Af-Pak problem well. "There`s no Ho Chi Minh. There`s no Slobodan Milosevic. There`s no Palestinian Authority. There is a widely dispersed group of -- of people that we roughly call the enemy. There`s al Qaeda, with which there`s no possibility of any discussion at all."
"There is no clear single address that you go to," Holbrooke said.
Richard Holbrooke has passed away, leaving a void which the US will find difficult to fill. At a State Department holiday reception, Obama had praised Holbrooke as "simply one of the giants of American foreign policy”.
It will be difficult for Obama administration to find another diplomat, whose negotiating skills, intellectual acuity, and experience could match those of Holbrooke.