News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Holbrooke stresses international involvement in addressing the AfPak problem

| March 10, 2010

While citing Kashmir as the path to peace in Afghanistan may get an op-ed published in the New York Times, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan unequivocally disagrees with the theory.

Some claim that India and Pakistan must resolve their dispute over Kashmir in order for Pakistan to be able to redistribute its military resources from its border with India to challenge the Taliban who cross its shared border with Afghanistan.

"It's a very popular point of view," Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told more than 400 people at Harvard Kennedy School's John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Thursday [March 4], "but I don't agree with it and it ain't what we're going to do."

Holbrooke, whom Belfer Center Director Graham Allison introduced as "the diplomatic equivalent of the hydrogen bomb" because of his vast experience abroad and in government, said all countries with a strategic interest in the subcontinent region - beyond just Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India - must be involved in the move toward resolving the conflict.

"Any outcome that's going to stabilize that volatile part of the world, which may well be the most volatile part of the world today, requires the strategic interests of all countries in the neighborhood to be taken into account," Holbrooke said, citing Iran, Russia, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S., in addition to the three main countries.

Holbrooke, who took part in the 1995 Dayton Accords negotiations, which brought together officials from Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia to end the three-and-a-half year long war in Bosnia, faces a different challenge than he did in the Balkans: Not all parties that play a role in Afghanistan's security are affiliated with a government.

"The Taliban do not represent a government of a part of the country," Holbrooke said.
"They represent a kind of political movement. Al Qaeda, with which they are allied, is even more shadowy; it's a network. There is no negotiating with al Qaeda."

Even though Holbrooke thinks the Dayton process teaches lessons applicable to most negotiations, he said Afghanistan presents a unique situation where they do not apply.

Holbrooke also questions the comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam. The core difference, he says, is that the U.S. had no strategic security stake in Vietnam.

"The North Vietnamese and the Vietcong posed no threat to the American homeland," he said. "In Afghanistan, the enemy we're fighting, and its ally al Qaeda, pose a direct, unambiguous threat to the United States."

It is for this reason that the Obama administration drastically increased the number of civilians and military personnel on the ground in Afghanistan and is working on doing the same in Pakistan. Holbrooke remembers the lessons learned from the U.S.'s last involvement in Afghanistan and does not plan on making the same errors.

"We cannot repeat the mistake of 1989 again," he said. "Once the Soviets left, we turned our back on Afghanistan and it was a catastrophic mistake."


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For Academic Citation: Maclin, Beth. “Holbrooke stresses international involvement in addressing the AfPak problem.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, March 10, 2010.

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