There is mourning in Pakistan over Mr. Holbrooke, the man who groomed Washington’s stooges in Islamabad and Kabul. Mr. Zardari beat them all by awarding the deceased Pakistan’s highest civilian honor. In Pakistani history, Mr. Holbrooke is definitely not a hero.
AHMED QURAISHI | Saturday | 18 December 2010
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Senior US diplomat Richard Holbrooke was key to maintaining United States intrusive meddling in Pakistani politics. His role in Pakistan was sharply different to his commendable effort in the Balkans where he helped bring peace to Bosnia. In Pakistan, he was assigned to protect a corrupt pro-US political system in Islamabad while pushing US interests even when they harmed Pakistan.
The biggest part of his brief was to provide the highest level of support to the corrupt and incompetent government of President Asif Ali Zardari and keep his coalition allies ANP and MQM in line.
Holbrooke articulated his real assignment in a rare statement during a Congressional briefing in May 2009 when Mr. Zardari’s government was floundering in Pakistan amid rumors the military might overthrow him for incompetence.
“Our goal,” Holbrooke told US Congress, “must be unambiguously to support and help stabilize a democratic Pakistan headed by its elected president, Asif Ali Zardari.”
“We have the highest strategic interests in supporting this government,” he said.
Mr. Holbrooke was instrumental in helping the pro-US Pakistani government survive the machinations of its political rivals and of the powerful Pakistani military. When Mr. Zardari felt he wanted to tell Washington things he couldn’t discuss openly in his Presidential Palace because others would be around, Ambassador Holbrooke helped him break diplomatic protocol, not to mention the rules of business of the Government of Pakistan, and swing by Dubai to secretly meet the Pakistani president, in a meeting that was kept secret from Pakistan Foreign Office and the media. The only other person allowed in the meeting was Mr. Zardari’s Washington envoy, a known US embed.
Holbrooke sustained the Zardari government by engaging its opponents. He was helped by the equally intrusive Anne W. Patterson, US envoy in Islamabad. She was active in covering Mr. Zardari’s flanks in the time she spent here before finally leaving last month.
Thanks to Holbrooke and Patterson, and a number of other junior US diplomats working for them, Pakistani political parties established direct party-to-foreign-government contacts, with each Pakistani political party conducting its own private foreign policy with Washington. The Pakistani ‘Government’ almost ceased to exist. This was a continuation of the intrusive policies of the Bush administration in Pakistan.
So intrusive was Mr. Holbrooke, and so strong his reputation as a kingmaker in Pakistani politics, that former premier Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif drove for four hours to meet Mr. Holbrooke inside the US embassy in May 2009, in what some Pakistani media reports said was a US embassy ‘summon’ for Mr. Sharif.
With this level of deep involvement in local Pakistani politics, no wonder Pakistani politicians were panicked when they heard the US diplomat was on his deathbed.
Telephone calls started flying from Islamabad, and Kabul, to Washington DC. Topping the list of the panicked was President Zardari. He telephoned Mrs. Holbrooke and ordered his Washington representative to visit him in hospital.
And then something really stunning happened. On Thursday, three days after Mr. Holbrooke’s demise, President Zardari decided to award Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Crescent of Pakistan, to the deceased. The move was objectionable to most Pakistanis. Mr. Holbrooke became the third or fourth US administration official to receive this award in less than three years, without deserving it in any shape or form. Obviously there is something very disturbing about a political stooge squandering Pakistan’s highest awards on his international sponsors.
There are other, less famous orphans that Mr. Holbrooke leaves behind in Pakistan. Academics and journalists who were secretly recruited to work for the US embassy and US government as Washington expanded its illegal presence inside Pakistan. Some of them worked from DC, others from Islamabad and other Pakistani cities. I am tempted to reveal their names but that’s a juicy story for some other time.
Most obituaries talked about Mr. Holbrooke’s efforts to ‘bring peace’ to the region. These were exaggerations. His last words, ‘You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan’, contradict with the fact that he was a key player in prolonging the war by helping Washington’s proxies stay in power in Kabul and Islamabad and faithfully execute US policies. Mr. Holbrooke also played a role in pushing the Pakistani government to allow more covert US agents into Pakistan this year. This doesn’t sound like a man working to end the war. It appears that, in this case, Mr. Holbrooke’s sense of loyalty to his country and government, and his sense of self-importance, prevailed over his sense of doing what is right.
He was doing a good job of promoting US interests and sustaining US proxy regimes in Islamabad and Kabul. If that’s a virtue, Mr. Holbrooke did a great job indeed. Skeptics like me are greatly impressed by Ambassador Holbrooke’s service to his nation. Only if our stooges could learn something from that.