Tributes pour in for ‘The Bulldozer’

Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan paid glowing tribute Tuesday to U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, saying the veteran diplomat’s sudden death will be felt by everyone working for peace in the region.

Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan paid glowing tribute Tuesday to U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, saying the veteran diplomat’s sudden death will be felt by everyone working for peace in the region.

Holbrooke died in Washington on Monday after surgery to repair a torn aorta.

Known as “The Bulldozer” for his approach to getting warring sides together, the 69-year-old was appointed special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan shortly after President Barack Obama was elected.

Ambassador William Crosbie said Holbrooke helped build trust within the war-ravaged region.

“We are all going to feel his loss,” Crosbie said.

The strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan laid down by Holbrooke won’t change, because a forum for peaceful dialogue has been established, he added.

“He will be a very difficult individual to replace, but I think the commitment remains on all sides to work together towards that common goal.”

Holbrooke was best known for brokering an end to the Balkan War of the mid-1990s, Europe’s bloodiest conflict since the Second World War.

“Ambassador Holbrooke was very distinguished and dedicated diplomat and I think we felt the benefit of that experience,” Crosbie said.

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon acknowledged that achievement in a statement Tuesday, saying Holbrooke will be remembered for his commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict.

“Today marks the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords, the agreement that Mr. Holbrooke brokered to end the war in Bosnia and open the door to stability and democracy for the people of the western Balkans,” Cannon said.

Even Holbrooke’s main opponent in the war in Bosnia, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, expressed “sadness and regret” over Holbrooke’s unexpected death. Karadzic had been hoping to call Holbrooke to testify in his genocide trial.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen paid tribute to Holbrooke’s legendary diplomatic skills, saying he played an essential role in the 1995 Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian war and lauding his work in Afghanistan.

As Obama’s special envoy, Holbrooke realized “that we sometimes have to defend our security by facing conflicts in distant places,” Fogh Rasmussen said Tuesday.

Cannon said Canada worked very closely with Holbrooke in his new role as special adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan. “His recent efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are an inspiration to all of us.”

The Obama administration is set to deliver its status report on the surge of American troops later this week.

Holbrooke’s death leaves a gaping hole in Washington’s diplomatic strategy in the region and many commentators said Tuesday that he would be tough to replace.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was saddened by the hard-charging diplomat’s death. He and Holbrooke were often at loggerheads over the future of the war, especially the Afghan leader’s insistence on negotiating with the Taliban.

The Taliban, on the other hand, rejoiced at the news, claiming his death had been caused by failures in the U.S.-led Afghan war and Holbrooke’s “grappling with a constant psychological stress” from his position as special envoy.

“The protracted Afghan war and the descending trajectory of the Americans’ handling of the warfare in the country had a lethal dent on Holbrooke’s health,” the group said on jihadi websites monitored by SITE Intelligence Group, a private U.S.-based group that tracks Islamic militant communications.

Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, published online by WikiLeaks, show Washington was overwhelmingly opposed to talks with Mullah Omar.

“There will be no power-sharing with elements of the Taliban,” Holbrooke was quoted as saying in a January 2009 note. He pushed to ensure that surrender was the only option given to insurgents.

Crosbie said it’s been a year since extra U.S. troops were ordered, and the effects are being felt on the ground.

He says everyone has paid attention to the military, but just as important is the U.S. civilian surge, which has poured thousands of diplomats and development workers — as well as hundreds of millions of dollars — into the country over the last few months.

Crosbie said the development expertise and the money are having the more general impact of helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

The ambassador wouldn’t answer questions about his criticism of the Afghan government and attempts to reform the electoral process, as reported in memos that were obtained and released by WikiLeaks earlier this month.

Crosbie offered to resign once it was clear his remarks would be included in the 250,000 pages of classified U.S. cables, but the Conservative government has stood by him.

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