Washington: In a luxurious lodge alongside Doha`s shoreline final 12 months, Zalmay Khalilzad smiled as he shook arms with the Taliban`s co-founder Mullah Baradar in entrance of journalists and diplomats from around the globe.
“We have now signed an settlement with the Taliban that achieves US targets,” Khalilzad, the US` particular consultant for Afghanistan reconciliation, wrote on Twitter later that night time. Twenty months later, the US-backed Afghan authorities collapsed because the Taliban swept by way of the nation at lightning velocity and marched into Kabul unopposed. Khalilzad was left searching for the militant group`s assist in a chaotic U.S. evacuation from Kabul.
Present and former US officers advised Reuters that within the three years Khalilzad has been within the position, he turned the face of one of many largest U.S. diplomatic failures in current reminiscence. U.S. officers, who spoke on the situation of anonymity, mentioned the veteran American diplomat relinquished leverage to the militant group, repeatedly undermined the Afghan authorities, and had little curiosity in listening to completely different viewpoints throughout the U.S. authorities.
“How does he nonetheless have a job?” a U.S. official requested. “There is no such thing as a longer any Afghan reconciliation left.”Khalilzad declined to touch upon the report. Some officers, lawmakers and international coverage consultants mentioned that he is among the few U.S. diplomats to have relations with the Taliban and was merely following orders from each U.S. Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden: get all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.
“Khalilzad seems dangerous. However I feel that he was dutiful within the sense that he did what he was requested to do,” mentioned Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Heart think-tank. Khalilzad, whereas a serious determine in America’s humiliating finish to a 20-year involvement in Afghanistan, was certainly one of many individuals who made errors throughout 4 administrations – two Republican and two Democratic.
Gave away the farm
When Khalilzad, who was born within the northern Afghan metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, was appointed to be the particular envoy in 2018, there was a rising political need to depart Afghanistan. Having campaigned on ending “the countless wars”, Trump had publicly talked about his need to take away hundreds of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However officers mentioned that regardless of his need to depart, Trump had proven that he may order a withdrawal solely to stroll it again like he did in Syria.In negotiations, officers mentioned Khalilzad gave away an excessive amount of early by making clear that Washington was seeking to withdraw all of its troops.
A significant concession, based on the officers, was Khalilzad agreeing to the Taliban`s demand that President Ashraf Ghani releases 5,000 Taliban prisoners. A second U.S. official mentioned that transfer dealt a serious blow to the Afghan authorities`s morale. Consultant Michael McCaul, the highest Republican on the Home of Representatives International Affairs Committee, mentioned he thought Khalilzad had been given an unattainable project.”I feel he virtually acquired caught up in that project, that he was going to achieve success, he was going to get this deal reduce, he was going to make a distinction,” McCaul mentioned.
‘Viceoy of Kabul’
Afghan officers have been skeptical from the second the Trump administration entered into direct talks with the Taliban, with out the Afghan authorities on the desk.
Roya Rahmani, who was the Afghan ambassador to Washington till July, recalled Khalilzad`s chorus earlier within the negotiations that “nothing is agreed till every little thing is agreed” – a message meant to reassure Afghans and Individuals alike. “What occurred was there was an settlement that solely ensured that the Taliban – throughout that time period – wouldn’t assault U.S. personnel and troopers, however then every little thing else is allowed,” Rahmani mentioned in an interview this week.
Through the negotiations, the US and Afghan authorities clashed publicly. In March 2019, Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s nationwide safety adviser, leveled a fierce assault on Khalilzad`s conduct, questioning whether or not he was maybe searching for energy himself.
“The notion in Afghanistan and other people in authorities suppose that maybe, maybe all this discuss is to create a caretaker authorities of which he’ll then develop into the viceroy,” Mohib mentioned. The feedback by Mohib weren’t new.
Because the US ambassador in Afghanistan from 2003-05, Khalilzad performed an unusually hands-on position in Afghan politics and Afghans referred to him because the “Viceroy of Kabul.” There was additionally widespread frustration throughout the Trump and Biden administrations that Khalilzad did little to take heed to the Pentagon, Treasury Division and even elements of the White Home, officers mentioned.
A supply acquainted with the matter defended Khalilzad, saying the U.S. army was giving conflicting messages to the Afghan authorities, probably making them suppose that Washington might reverse its plans to depart.
White Home officers have mentioned in current days that there aren’t any discussions about firing individuals for a messy withdrawal that led to the deaths of 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghans and left behind tens of hundreds of people that helped the US authorities.
One US official mentioned that Khalilzad`s relationships with senior Taliban leaders have been instrumental in getting the group to assist shield Kabul`s airport.
With US residents and at-risk Afghans nonetheless seeking to get out of Afghanistan and no American diplomatic presence there, officers mentioned that Khalilzad may nonetheless play an vital position as an interlocutor to the Taliban.
However some lawmakers have pointed the finger at Khalilzad because the architect of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and say he should go.
“Ambassador Khalilzad has supplied you with poor counsel and his diplomatic technique has failed spectacularly,” Consultant Michael Waltz, an
Afghanistan warfare veteran, wrote to Biden final month.
Khalilzad declined to touch upon the report.
“In gentle of this disaster, Ambassador Khalilzad ought to resign instantly or be relieved from his place,” Waltz mentioned.