Holbrooke, Foot, Mouth

by Joshua Foust on 3/15/2010 · 17 comments

Richard Holbrooke, everyone’s favorite envoy they love to hate to love, has an almost Biden-esque talent for saying things that make people angry. His most recent comment, that “Taliban is woven into the fabric of Pashtun society on both sides of the border with Pakistan and almost every Pashtun family has someone involved with the movement,” has, naturally, sparked anger from Pashtun families who do not have Taliban amongst their ranks (and that’s most Pashtun families, to be honest).

In response, Hazrat Sebghatullah Mojaddadi, Head of Meshrano Jirga (or upper house of the Afghan parliament), issued the following statement:

Mesharano Jirgs vehemently denounces the recent statement of Richart Holbrook, who had said in a gathering on 05 March 2010, that “there is a Talib in each Pashtun family. This kind of statement is considered to be unrealistic and baseless, and it is a major obstacle for strengthening peace and reconciliation in the country.

At the present time, Afghanistan is combating international terrorism alongside of international community, and has endured tremendous sacrifices for peace and stability both in the region and the world. The U.S. Special Representative should make efforts under the circumstance towards bringing national unity in the country, because terrorism is the common enemy and it should not be attributed specifically to a tribe or nation.

Mishrano Jirga as an independent body and representing the Afghan people in the Parliament, demands Mr. Holbrook to make every effort for strengthening the cooperation, extended by the United States and international community, with the people of Afghanistan, and should exercise caution in this sensitive environment of the country.

It’s kind of weird how the Obama administration has such a reliable knack for angering the government it claims to hope to want to help.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 17 comments }

Christian March 15, 2010 at 11:28 pm

And you just know he is repeating word for word what some “expert” said somewhere at some event/meeting he was attending.

Joshua Foust March 15, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Screw that, it was probably one of his advisers. Maybe even Matthew Hoh.

Kalsoom March 15, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Oh my God. When is this guy getting fired?

Joe Harlan March 16, 2010 at 12:00 am

Met him once. Didn’t seem like a douche. But then he does things like this. I think it’s one of those situations where he lacks that critical thinking filter that keeps normal people from making potentially absurd statements.

Toryalay Shirzay March 16, 2010 at 12:26 am

Are you trying to make Mojaddadi’s comments more credible than those of Richard Holbrooke??Mr. Holbrooke must have touched a raw nerve in are the ultra corrupt Afghanistan.That Mojaddadi is a very corrupt person who takes bribes as a habit and also his relatives who are in position of power do the same and they big tormentors of Afghan people. What Holbrooke said about the Taliban and the Pashtuns is not far from reality ;he just is brave enough to speak up his mind ;the West need a very tough guy to deal with all those bad characters in Afghanistan-Pakistan.

DePetris March 16, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the job of a U.S. Special Envoy- like Richard Holbrooke- was to create conditions that make U.S. objectives easier to attain. In fact, this is why the Obama administration has relied on so many special envoys during its first year in office (Ross in Iran, Mitchell in Israel/Palestine and Holbrooke in Afghanistan/Pakistan); the White House wants to achieve a certain element of success in these vital regions.

Statements like these are not only highly offensive to Pashtun families in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they totally disregard the tremendous sacrifices made by the Pashtun community against the Taliban Movement. Thousands upon thousands of Pashtuns have been killed in both countries for the sake of this objective. Some are even killed for merely helping coalition forces in intel operations.

Wise up Holbrooke, and do the job that the President expects you to do.

Bilal Wardak March 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Well said, Mr Holbrooke knows what he’s up to. I can count about 11 people from my family being associated with the current resistance. Pashtun’s have always gave hands to those who resists the foreigners let it be Taliban, Hezb e Islami or whatever floats one’s boat. The Taliban ideology is not what we see through media, it’s very simple and straight up’ they are fed up with the foreigners. We all know that 95% of the Taliban come from the pashtun lands. The rest are Arabs, chechens, uzbeks, Tajiks, europeans and what not. Holbrooke is not wrong, Mojaddedi seems like he isn’t being loyal to his bosses (US, Holbrooke, NATO) I think it’s about time to twist mojaddedi’s ear lol.

anan March 17, 2010 at 4:06 am

Bilal, why do far more Pashtuns volunteer to join the ANA and ANP compared to join the Taliban?

Did you see that ““24,056 recruits joined the Army last month . . . ” MOD spokesperson Gen. Zahir Azimi said”:
http://www.ntm-a.com/news/1-categorynews/277-afghan-national-security-force-growth-is-key-to-continued-success

As you know, Bilal Wardak, 44% of the ANA is Pashtuns. A similar percentage of the ANP is Pashtuns. 42% of all Afghans are Pashtuns.

The reason the ANA isn’t much larger than it is, is because it doesn’t have the resources to train, equip and pay for all the Afghans who want to join it.

Bilal Wardak, do you support Sirajuddin Haqqani? Or do you only support some local Taliban who distance themselves from Sirajuddin?

Why are the Taliban murdering so many ANA and ANP? In the first 11 months of 2009, the Taliban killed 1,920 ANP. Each of these Afghan Police had family and friends.

When you hear about a battle between the Taliban and the ANA or ANP, you back the Taliban. How many Pashtuns openly root for attacks against the ANA and ANP?

If you ran around Kabul, or Khost, or Jalalabad or Helmand saying that you supported attacks on the ANA; what do you think local Afghan Pashtuns would do to you?

I also noticed how you artfully said 95% of Taliban are Pashtuns . . . including Pakistani Pashtuns in the 95% number. Why should Pakistani Pashtuns get to rule Afghanistan? Why should Afghanistan be ruled by Taliban rulers who serve foreign interests rather than the interests of the Afghan people?

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, only 900.000 Afghan boys and almost no girls were in school Today, over 4.5 million boys and over 2.5 million girls are in school. In 2001, only 1,000 to 2,000 freshman were in college; compared to 45,000 now. As you know, virtually the entire education budget of Afghanistan is paid for by foreign grants rather than by Afghan tax revenue.

If the foreigners stop paying for Afghan reconstruction, most Afghans would become unemployed and devastatingly poor overnight; most schools, hospitals, health clinics, and universities would shut down immediately.

You seems to favor this. Is the real reason you favor this so that Afghanistan will be weakened sufficiently so that your Pakistani Pashtun brothers will be able to conquer Afghanistan through Sirajjudin Haqqani, Hekmatyur and others like them?

Afghanvoice March 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Well, there is something that can be said about Holbrooke’s statement.

Maybe not every Pashtun family has a Talib of its own. But it is certainly true that in every Pashtun household there is at least one who sympathizes with the Taliban.

Pashtuns are very diverse people. Usually the ones who are in favor of foreigners are from rich, and wealthy families. If not, then they are certainly secularists.

And as we all know by now, majority of Pashtuns are extremely poor, unemployed and very conservative.

So I think Holbrooke has a point.

But Sibghatullah Mujadidi should be just shot between the eyes. he is more evil and corrupt than Satan.

He use to spit on people’s hand in exchange for money. Because apparently he is some kind of a saint.

DE Teodoru March 16, 2010 at 9:13 pm

There’s an old Leninist concept that the neocons tried to use on America to garnish support for their so-called “World War IV” against Islam; it is POLARIZE TO MOBILIZE. Yet, this method only works with intellectuals, not village mullahs, elders or “one tribe at a time,” I think. I have never seen it work on rural folk anywhere in the Mediterranean Basin. Another concept is that of culture as a limitation on acts of self-advancement and sacrifices that enable the largest number of people in a community to survive. Lastly, Mao advised guerrillas to always operate BETWEEN provinces because then the provincial authorities would argue over whose jurisdiction they fall in and by the time it’s settled the guerrillas can be gone. While Mediterranean cultures seem very similar, especially in terms of social interactions, Muslim cultures seem uniquely able to muddle the distinctions. Therein it is an art form more than a mere taking of advantage. In that context, Holbrooke seems an utterly absurd individual to use in “rural diplomacy with ever shifting Muslim authorities.” He has a knack for assuming freedom of action to justify the commitments he bullies in demanding and then proceeds to use his Foggy Bottom gaggle to nudge people to accept his demands. Speaking to Balkan in-laws who dealt with him I can safely say that he is NOT the man for the job. Of course, if he’s dealing with British molded South Asians, then he’s the perfect man to BS them because he starts off seeming real dumb and then soon has them in his vice-grip logic of no other *available* alternatives. But the cartooning of Pashtuns that he has engaged in reminds of that old question: what walks on four to start, moves to two, then to tree and finally back to four. This would suggest that he is now crawling in the twilight of his diplomatic career much as he did in its Vietnam infancy.

At any rate, smart Obama is using a lot of diplomats and generals like fireflies as means of getting people’s eyes off the ball. The Clintonistas dominating the White House may or may not squeeze him out by 2012 to be replaced by Hillary. If so, then it would be Hillary standing on a Democrat feminist “suitpants outfilt” on a soapbox against Petraeus as the Republican standing on his cardboard of ribbons. So whether Obama is the candidate in 2012 or Hillary, by 2011 PRESIDENT Obama will begin withdrawing forces and assets and, most importantly, money from Afghanistan (causing a lot of WashDC bureaucrats to be pink-slipped) so that by Election Day we may well see the Taliban facing the Shanghai Cooperative Accord instead of McChrystal and Holbrooke. Such a situation makes the Tajiks, Uzbeks and others more dominant in a Russo-Sino dominated war on terror and drugs. The Pashtuns have proved something the Punjabis would love to see mowed down somewhat by external forcers. I never met a Pakistani officer who did not rue the day they let 5 million Afghans set up base in Pakistan. Even tribalism has given way to “villagism,” just as in Vietnam. That being the granularity at which the Afghan War will be resolved, I can’t imagine Holbrooke having anything to offer. On the other hand, the fate of Dubai forebodes badly for the cash support of the Taliban from the Gulf so Brit-educated surrogates may well be speaking for a lot of diverse tribal elders, gangs and warlords in Jirgas run by Holbrooke. As a result, he may profit in prestige resulting from the desperation of his interlocutors much as he did from Balkan desperation. Stay tuned because a lot of deadlines are coming and this time they won’t be extended because America is veeeerrrryyyy anemic!

Toryalay Shirzay March 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Joshua, I wonder if you could write about why is it that the US/NATO continue to support and do business with so many blatant corrupt Afghan officials such as Mojaddadi and his cronies??The ordinary Afghan folks are tormented daily by these thugs as much as by the Taliban who are agents of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.The Taliban are foreign agents whether they come from Afghan villages or from Pakistan.After 30 years of war.bloodbath,massive destruction,the Afghan citizen on the street is still waiting for justice.

Farhad March 17, 2010 at 2:18 am

I’m not sure that justice will ever come to Afghanistan:

Take a look at this piece:

Afghanistan confirms blanket pardon for war crimes
Afghanistan confirmed for the first time publicly on Tuesday that it had enacted into law a blanket pardon for war crimes and human rights abuse carried out before 2001.
http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE62F2LU20100316

Parliament is made of mostly warlords, drug barons and criminals. And thanks the US/NATO who installed these people into power in the post 9/11 Afghan government.

Let’s go back to Secretary of State Colin Powell statement, “We’re doing Afghanistan on the cheap”. Cliche as it is, you reap what you sow. And injustice has been sow deep in the fertile Afghan soil and harvest after harvest injustice has been reaped– the analogy can also go with poppy fields.

But here I don’t blame just US/NATO, I blame the Afghans that aren’t protesting against this unjust law.

reader March 17, 2010 at 9:38 am

This isn’t, never was, and never will be about bringing justice to Afghanistan. Little girls in schools are an after-thought. Oh there are some groups within the government that are all about transforming Afghanistan. But what belies this is that boththe Obama and Bush administrations are basically neo-liberal. For them traditional, new Deal-esque fixes, including protectionism, unionism and industrialization (all of which are needed in Afghanistan) are anathema. In fact, the Chinese are doing far better at this than the US is, although they have their issues as well. Basically it’s about $, international prestige, and testosterone. I just don’t buy the rhetoric considering the whose doing the talking in the White House, Congress, and elsewhere. You can’t be a hardcore economic conservative on this side of the Atlantic and turn into Daddy Warbucks on the other side, it doesn’t make sense unless you realize how integral $ and machismo is in all of this. Well, it will continue until the dollar is no longer the world reserve currency. Then there will be no funny fiat money for foreign adventures.

DE Teodoru March 17, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Per reader: “it doesn’t make sense unless you realize how integral $ and machismo is in all of this.”

BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO! You don’t know how much a repeat this COIN mess in of past COIN, coin being a proper acronym as a lot is done to squeeze money out of Gov in the only way possible when you’re not a banker “too big to fail.” I remind of my analogy with the incompetent surgeon whose patient miraculously survived his operation; but the surgeon insists that the patient can’t refuse to allow him to re-operate because his reputation as a surgeon is at stake. DoD and DoS were total screw-ups under Bush. Now they want another shot at blood-letting under Obama? China won’t allow Pakistan to fall and Russia won’t allow India to fall. We’re not their only choice. Indeed, Karzai has been negotiating HIS future with the Russians for three years now. At this point there’s nothing left to discuss but the American character that deems the world its bloody playpen. We have a generation of Americans to save from bully ignorance through education in science and math; we need all our assets for that. We think that the “Skunk Works” will always come up with an air war tool that will compensate for the incompetence of our brass while it is learning on the job. It’s not that commanders are dumb but that we as a nation are bound only by the avarice of corporate America. During the Cold War corporations were scared of Communism so they behaved more patriotically and responsibly. Now they laugh at the war on terror and see the Pentagon as just another dumb cash cow to milk, just as bankers “too big to fail” see Dept of Treasury. We are rewarding mediocrity for obedience to narrow minded corporate interests. That’s the last stage of a great power’s decline. Wake up if you love America and the freedoms it offers. The “ain’t my kid going to war” disconnect syndrome is killing out kids and will render us helpless.

Toryalay Shirzay March 17, 2010 at 9:47 pm

So all the war criminals in Afghanistan now have a blanket pardon.Doesn’t this make the US/NATO look inept??More than 30 years of war have made Afghan people weak and weary and frankly they have little stamina left in them to even protest such an insult.What about the US/NATO?? They are strong,they claim to be principled,to be the vanguard of freedom and they have a big army here whose efforts to fight terrorism and bring peace is widely appreciated by Afghans,why can’t they also insist on justice for Afghan folks on the street??Why US/NATO continue to support corrupt Afghan officials and do business with them?? Do you have to prop up those Afghan thugs?Who is most likely to make the US/NATO MISSION fail in Afstan?? you guessed it right,it is the corrupt Afghan officials,that is who.

DE Teodoru March 17, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Toryalay Shirzay, I hope you are not Afghan for I feel such shame over the Pentagon politics that killed so many of your people, as US soldier moms&dads, while feeding so many more to the Taliban and we did nothing to stop it. It all happened because our educated elites needed jobs in the Bush-it bureaucracies to pay their WashDC suburban mortgages and our academics feared losing grants if they demanded meaningful dialogue as in Vietnam War teach-ins. As for the media, it is all a propaganda mill that will only step out of line when a “scoop” will make the paper and the reporter “BIG.” But note that when they write follow-up books on the scoops that made them famous they all pull their punches because they will continue to need friendly Pentagon “sources” in order to perpetuate their pooper-scooper careers. The internet exposed the acad/expert/media emperor as having no clothes…and no “balls” either!

DE Teodoru March 18, 2010 at 12:35 am

How many female American soldiers– how many of them moms?– died for this freedom ofr the Afghan “government”?
(see video)
http://www.afghanlord.org/2010/02/three-afghan-women-are-publicly-flogged.html

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