Gayle Tzemach Lemmon Headshot

Richard Holbrooke: A Steadfast Supporter of Afghan Women

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The world mourns the loss of veteran diplomat Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at a critical time for the war in Afghanistan. President Obama's senior security advisers are gathering today to discuss the nine year war's future trajectory and to review the troop surge the president announced in 2009.

Ambassador Holbrooke's hard-charging devotion to his work and his dedicated staff is the stuff of reporter's legend at this point. At a recent Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington, Holbrooke insisted on introducing by name and title every member of his team in attendance, refusing the entreaties of the event's moderator to move on. He wanted their work recognized. People, he thought, mattered.

Women leaders in Afghanistan have followed the work of Holbrooke and his team carefully. With the December review nearing and talk of talks with the Taliban growing more serious, they have watched to see whether their rights would become fodder for the next round of negotiations as the world rushed to find a graceful exit to America's longest war. Women want peace desperately, they say, but not at the cost of their rights.

In this, they had a friend and supporter in Amb. Holbrooke. While his concerns about the war's prosecution were hardly a secret among reporters, his support for women's rights did not waiver.

As Holbrooke stated before Congress in July:

"Our position on this... point is unambiguous. Afghan-led peace efforts must not be a vehicle for reversing the progress of Afghan women and girls since 2001. As Secretary Clinton reiterated during President Karzai's visit, 'it is essential that women's rights and women's opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process.' We will not abandon Afghanistan's women."

Today while the world feels the loss of a veteran diplomat who loved his work and believed in his nation's promise, it is important to remember the principles for which Richard Holbrooke fought tirelessly. And to keep in mind his admonition that a close to the war must not be the beginning of the end for women's progress in Afghanistan.