Holbrooke praised by world leaders

World leaders praise U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke after his unexpected death for engineering the end of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war and for seeking to bring stability to war-torn Afghanistan.
World leaders are praising U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, who died on Monday after surgery for a tear in his aorta. ((Alex Brandon/Associated Press))

World leaders are praising U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, who died Monday in a Washington, D.C., hospital following surgery for a tear in his aorta. 

Holbrooke was remembered for engineering the end of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war — Europe's bloodiest conflict since the Second World War — and for seeking to bring stability to war-torn Afghanistan.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon was among those offering condolences on Tuesday, calling Holbrooke "a trusted friend of Canada" and "an inspiration to all of us."

"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 in a statement.

"We valued his views and counsel on the many issues that brought Canada and United States together to promote our common values in a world fraught with conflict and fragility."

Even Holbrooke's main opponent in the war in Bosnia, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, expressed "sadness and regret" over Holbrooke's unexpected death Monday.

But in Afghanistan, the Taliban rejoiced at news of his death, claiming it was caused by failures in the U.S.-led war there and Holbrooke's "grappling with a constant psychological stress" from his position as President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"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.

Legendary diplomatic skills

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.

Richard Holbrooke, centre, who was the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, listens to U.S. Maj.-Gen. Richard P. Mills during a mission to Marjah, south of Kabul, in this June 2010 photo. ((Abdul Khaleq/Associated Press))

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.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani leader Asif Ali Zardari also praised Holbrooke, who died at 69, though Holbrooke's style did not play as well with Karzai as it did with Balkan leaders. Aides said Karzai considered the American envoy ignorant of Afghan culture. 

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the world should be grateful to Holbrooke for his contribution to the international strategy in Afghanistan.

Holbrooke earned the nickname The Bulldozer after he bullied warring Serbs, Croats and Muslims to agree to end the Bosnian war with sometimes risky diplomatic overtures.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who served as an envoy to Bosnia in the early 1990s, said the strategy gave Holbrooke many close friends but also many enemies.

British officials also offered tribute. 

"He will always be remembered for his pre-eminent role in ending the vicious war in Bosnia, where his force of personality and his negotiating skill combined to drive through the Dayton peace agreement and put a halt to the fighting," Prime Minister David Cameron said in London.

'An unjust peace, but still a peace'

Not all Bosnians admired Holbrooke's efforts to achieve peace, arguing that the multiethnic state he set up as part of the Dayton peace process had proven too unwieldy for effective governance.

"He was instrumental in bringing peace to Bosnia. An unjust peace, but still a peace," said Haris Silajdzic, Bosnia's wartime foreign minister who participated in the Dayton negotiations. 

But Sarajevo's citizens, who suffered a 3½-year siege during the Bosnian war that killed thousands, were more positive about Holbrooke's legacy.

"The Dayton agreement was reached to end the war, but it is no longer good for us and the time has come to change it," said Dalila Cikusic, a Sarajevo resident. "But that has nothing to do with Holbrooke, we must do it ourselves ... as far as Richard is concerned, I only have words of praise for him."

In Kosovo, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has proposed naming a square after Holbrooke in the capital of Pristina for his role in helping the province gain independence from Serbia.   

With files from The Associated Press