Washington: Zalmai Khalilzad, the US special envoy for the Afghan reconciliation process, has resigned and said he would unveil the reasons behind the decision in the coming days.
In a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Khalilzad defended his record but acknowledged that he rarely came and said he wanted to be separated during “a new phase of our Afghanistan policy.”
“The political arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban has not progressed as expected,” he wrote.
“The reasons are very complex and I will share my thoughts in the coming days and weeks.”
Born in Afghanistan, the 70-year-old U.S. diplomat has held senior positions as part of former President George W. Bush’s inner circle, becoming US ambassador to Kabul and then to Baghdad and the United Nations.
As former President Donald Trump called for an end to America’s longest-running war in Afghanistan, he brought back Khalilzad, who led full negotiations with the Taliban in Kabul without involving the US-backed government. ۔
The talks resulted in a February 2020 agreement in which US troops would withdraw next year.
But peace talks between the Taliban and the leadership in Kabul failed, and the government that the United States formed in 20 years collapsed within days of the withdrawal of US troops.
Rare American personality
Immersed in the language and customs of Afghanistan, Khalilzad was an extraordinary American diplomat who was able to establish cordial relations with the Taliban leaders whose government was overthrown by the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks on al Qaeda. Was
Khalilzad, despite his Republican allegiance, was retained when Democratic President Joe Biden defeated Trump and decided to move forward with a comeback.
Khalilzad soon became a powerhouse for criticism, even of his top officials in the Biden administration – while personally paying tribute to him – denouncing the diplomacy behind the 2020 deal.
Blanken said Khalilzad’s deputy, Thomas West, would take over as special envoy.
A longtime aide to West Biden, he served on his staff when he was vice president. The West has worked for many years on South Asia policy, including the US-India civilian nuclear deal.
Shortly before Khalilzad’s resignation came to light, the State Department said the United States would not be able to attend a new meeting convened by Russia on Tuesday, which would include China and Pakistan.
‘Time is not on our side’
After Trump ended US opposition to talking to the Taliban, Khalilzad arranged for the release of the group’s co-founder, Mullah Baradar, from a Pakistani prison, seen as a figure who could deliver on his promises. And spent several months in a luxury hotel with the rural rebels. In the Qatari capital Doha
But pictures of him smiling at the Taliban drew sharp criticism in Kabul, where he was criticized by some of the now-fallen government, as well as the new Western elite, for selling Afghanistan.
In interviews last month, Khalilzad said he had reached an agreement with the Taliban in which the insurgents would stay out of Kabul and discuss political transition.
But Khalilzad said the agreement was broken when President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15 and the Taliban saw a security vacuum.
Speaking to Foreign Policy, Khalilzad said the Taliban had fulfilled key parts of the February 2020 agreement, which included not attacking US troops.
“I respect those who say we should not have negotiated with the Taliban without the government there,” he said.
But with no appetite for another troop increase in its longest war in the United States, “every year we were defeated by the Taliban.”
“Time was not on our side.”
Former Pakistani ambassador to Washington Hussain Haqqani, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said Khalilzad had failed to “equate the US withdrawal with peace.”
Haqqani said Khalilzad handed over the keys to Kabul to the Taliban in exchange for his promises that everyone knew the Taliban would not keep them.