WASHINGTON: Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat who brokered the accord that ended the war in Bosnia and served as US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has died, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.
Holbrooke, 69, whose government career spanned five decades and ranged from being a junior diplomat in South Vietnam to serving as the US ambassador to Germany and at the United Nations, died after surgery to repair a tear in his aorta.
He fell ill on Friday during a meeting with Clinton and was taken to a Washington hospital for emergency treatment. He underwent hours of surgery to try to save his life.
“Richard Holbrooke served the country he loved for nearly half a century, representing the United States in far-flung war zones and high-level peace talks, always with distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination,” Clinton said in a statement.
“He was the consummate diplomat, able to stare down dictators and stand up for America’s interests and values even under the most difficult circumstances.”
A tenacious diplomat who earned a reputation as a “bulldozer” in negotiating the 1995 Dayton Accords that concluded the Bosnian war, Holbrooke was once called “Washington’s favorite last-ditch diplomat” by Time magazine.
Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize seven times, Holbrooke joined President Barack Obama’s administration in January 2009 as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, dealing with two of Washington’s most vexing foreign policy challenges.
Nine years after the US invasion that toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, there are nearly 100,000 US troops in the country battling an insurgency that has been fortified by its ability to find safe havens in neighboring Pakistan.
Analysts do not expect Holbrooke’s death to have much impact on a report due this week on the impact of Obama’s build-up of forces in the Afghanistan war. The US strategy is meant to allow Afghan security forces to gradually take over and permit American troops start withdrawing in July 2011.
Teresita Schaffer, a retired US ambassador who writes on South Asia, called Holbrooke a “larger than life” figure who had been at the center of US policy and activities in the region. “As for relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan, he’s had a mixed impact, forceful but abrasive,” she said.
While some analysts believe Holbrooke’s influence on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy had waned, he may be best remembered for his success in bringing the warring parties in Bosnia to terms.
Holbrooke was sometimes known in the Balkans as “Raging Bull” and “The Bulldozer” because of the forceful tactics and cajoling he used to get opposing sides to the negotiating table at an air base in Dayton, Ohio, while serving as an assistant secretary of state under President Bill Clinton.
He developed a rapport with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 while being tried before a UN tribunal for war crimes that included genocide.
Known for having a blunt diplomatic style, 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.”
Holbrooke, who was born in New York on April 24, 1941, graduated from Brown University in 1962 and soon after was a US Foreign Service officer in Vietnam.
He served as an aide at the Paris peace talks and was a Peace Corps director in Morocco before becoming assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific affairs during President Jimmy Carter’s administration.