Zalmay Khalilzad Battles Critics in U.S. and Afghanistan

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Zalmay Khalilzad, who stepped down arsenic the envoy for Afghanistan aft the U.S. exit, has defended the woody helium negotiated with the Taliban during the Trump administration.

Zalmay Khalilzad is defending his estimation  against charges that helium  bears peculiar   blasted  for the chaotic autumn  of Kabul, the Afghan capital, to the Taliban successful  August.
Credit...T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Michael Crowley

Nov. 16, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — The nonaccomplishment to rescue Afghanistan from the Taliban weighs connected galore American generals and diplomats. But fewer had arsenic idiosyncratic a involvement arsenic Zalmay Khalilzad.

Raised successful Kabul and naturalized arsenic a U.S. citizen, Mr. Khalilzad worked connected Afghanistan argumentation nether 4 American presidents earlier stepping down past month.

The conflict for Afghanistan is lost, for now. But Mr. Khalilzad has embarked connected a caller fight: to support his estimation against accusations that helium bears peculiar blasted for the chaotic fall of Kabul, the Afghan capital, to the Taliban successful August.

Mr. Khalilzad has been connected a public-relations circuit of sorts, sitting for galore interviews successful caller weeks to reason that helium tried his champion to broker bid contempt vanishing leverage and an intransigent Afghan government. Calling his enactment incomplete, helium is besides applying unwelcome nationalist unit connected the Biden medication to enactment with the Taliban.

His critics accidental the woody helium reached with the Taliban nether President Donald J. Trump was either delusional oregon cynical, a means of providing bladed governmental screen for America’s abandonment of his autochthonal country.

Mr. Khalilzad “was the designer of the expansive deception scheme,” Amrullah Saleh, who served arsenic Afghanistan’s archetypal vice president until the Taliban took power of Kabul, tweeted connected Oct. 28. He said that Mr. Khalilzad treated Afghanistan “as a sacrificial goat,” caring for it “to the infinitesimal of slaughter.”

During a caller interrogation astatine his son’s high-rise flat extracurricular Washington, with sweeping views of the National Mall, Mr. Khalilzad rejected specified disapproval with a code of bemused forbearance.

“I respect those who say, ‘This was a defining warfare for the aboriginal of the Islamic world, and nary substance what we indispensable prevail,’” helium said. “Well, yeah. Sure, there’s a batch of things I privation for — but it wasn’t realistic, due to the fact that they couldn’t person the presidents, Congress and others.”

He added: “I tried to say, ‘OK, America wants to permission militarily. But let’s bash besides the close happening for Afghanistan. Because fixed my Afghan-ness, I was precise overmuch successful interaction with the feelings of the Afghan people. I took the occupation successful portion to spot if I could extremity the warfare besides for Afghanistan, for the people.”

The warfare ended connected Mr. Khalilzad’s watch, but not connected the presumption helium had hoped. Instead of the power-sharing authorities helium imagined could restrain the Taliban, the militant radical has assumed full power implicit the country, which is present facing economical illness and famine.

“Zal emerges from this arsenic a rather tragic figure,” said Eric S. Edelman, a erstwhile nationalist information authoritative who worked with Mr. Khalilzad nether Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

As colleagues astatine the Pentagon successful the precocious 1980s, Mr. Edelman and Mr. Khalilzad helped thrust U.S. argumentation successful enactment of mujahedeen fighters successful Afghanistan resisting Soviet occupiers. During the Bush administration, they again backed absorption fighters, who this clip were battling the Taliban arsenic the United States invaded successful 2001.

“He did a batch to make a modern, post-Taliban autarkic state,” Mr. Edelman said of Mr. Khalilzad. “And past to beryllium successful portion the handmaiden of its demise — I don’t cognize however you tin spot that arsenic different than tragic.”

Mr. Khalilzad had been retired of authorities for years when, during the 2016 statesmanlike campaign, helium introduced Mr. Trump for a overseas argumentation code hosted by a deliberation vessel with which helium was affiliated. A lifelong Republican, Mr. Khalilzad did not endorse Mr. Trump, noting his “provocative views.” But the instauration earned him bully volition successful Mr. Trump’s interior circle.

Then, successful 2018, Mr. Khalilzad told officials successful the Trump medication that Taliban representatives were funny successful talking astir a bid agreement. That September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appointed him envoy for “the singular mission” of “developing the opportunities to get the Afghans and the Taliban to travel to a reconciliation.”

In practice, however, the talks focused connected the presumption of the U.S. withdrawal that Mr. Trump sought. Eighteen months and hundreds of hours of bartering successful Doha, the Qatari capital, produced an agreement successful February 2020 nether which the United States agreed to retreat each its troops and the Taliban promised to halt attacks connected American forces and ne'er harbor violent groups.

The woody besides included a Taliban pledge to statesman nonstop talks with the U.S.-backed authorities successful Kabul, arsenic Mr. Pompeo had directed. But the Afghan authorities was reluctant, and the Taliban seemed unwilling to compromise connected their extremity to found a religiously based Islamic emirate.

Critics accidental Mr. Khalilzad negotiated small much than a comparatively harmless U.S. retreat.

“I judge Ambassador Khalilzad was excessively consenting to marque concessions to the Taliban and to propulsion the Afghan authorities nether the bus,” said Lisa Curtis, who worked intimately with Mr. Khalilzad successful the Trump medication arsenic the National Security Council’s elder manager for South and Central Asia. “It was wide to galore radical that the Taliban was not funny successful a bid process, but lone successful pursuing a subject way to power.”

Mr. Khalilzad’s supporters accidental that helium was handed an intolerable task erstwhile helium joined the Trump administration.

“I’ve been precise captious of the February 2020 statement that helium negotiated,” Mr. Edelman said. “But I volition accidental successful his defense: Trump chopped the legs retired from nether it. What benignant of negotiating leverage does helium person erstwhile the president is repeatedly saying, ‘We’re going to get the hellhole retired of Afghanistan!’”

While helium defends the agreement, Mr. Khalilzad besides argues that the United States mislaid the volition to combat successful Afghanistan, partially due to the fact that of the failures of “my erstwhile subject colleagues.”

Ms. Curtis besides noted that Mr. Khalilzad halted talks aft a Taliban onslaught connected Bagram Air Base, which killed 2 radical and wounded 73 others — nary of them Americans — but resumed them 2 days later. “It made the U.S. look anemic and desperate,” Ms. Curtis said.

She lamented Mr. Khalilzad’s acceptance of a Taliban request that the Afghan authorities merchandise 5,000 Taliban prisoners, galore of them hardened fighters, successful speech for lone 1,000 prisoners. Mr. Khalilzad said that captive swaps were a accepted trust-building measurement during bid negotiations.

One starring professional of the U.S. withdrawal, Mr. Trump’s present estranged erstwhile nationalist information adviser, John R. Bolton, does not blasted Mr. Khalilzad.

“I disquieted that Khalilzad was giving distant excessively much, not due to the fact that helium was a mediocre negotiator, but due to the fact that those were Pompeo’s instructions,” Mr. Bolton wrote successful his 2020 memoir, “The Room Where It Happened.”

Mr. Bolton wrote that Mr. Trump erstwhile said of Mr. Khalilzad, successful a gathering with respective elder officials, “I perceive he’s a con man, though you request a con antheral for this.”

It was unclear what Mr. Trump meant. But Mr. Khalilzad has been the taxable of complaints astir his profitable leaps betwixt authorities and the backstage sector, and, successful astatine slightest 1 antecedently unreported instance, his workplace conduct.

When the Taliban archetypal took powerfulness successful the 1990s, Mr. Khalilzad was a paid advisor for Unocal, a institution exploring a imaginable lipid pipeline done Afghanistan. He wrote astatine the clip that the radical “does not signifier the anti-U. S. benignant of fundamentalism practiced by Iran” and called for American aid, which critics said could person benefited a pipeline project.

Shortly aft leaving the Bush administration, successful which helium had served arsenic the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Mr. Khalilzad represented the concern committee of the country’s semiautonomous Kurdistan region. He was past a committee subordinate of an lipid and state concern institution successful the Persian Gulf with a fiscal involvement successful Kurdistan.

Mr. Khalilzad besides underwent interior scrutiny astatine the State Department. Shortly earlier his departure, the department’s bureau of civilian rights concluded a monthslong probe into alleged workplace misconduct during the Bush administration. The Times reviewed emails from investigators sent successful mid-August, days earlier the autumn of Kabul, saying the study was headed to elder section officials. The officials believed Mr. Khalilzad had acted inappropriately, but the study did not urge immoderate disciplinary action.

Mr. Khalilzad denied wrongdoing and said that the aforesaid assertion had been investigated by the Trump medication and recovered to beryllium without merit. He said the assertion was reopened nether Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken “without the accidental for maine to supply my afloat input.”

Understand the Taliban Takeover successful Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose successful 1994 amid the turmoil that came aft the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan successful 1989. They utilized brutal nationalist punishments, including floggings, amputations and wide executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s much connected their root communicative and their grounds arsenic rulers.

A State Department spokesperson declined to remark connected Mr. Khalilzad’s case. The department’s bureau of civilian rights, which handled the case, would not sermon its Trump-era inquiry.

On Feb. 29, 2020, Mr. Khalilzad signed a four-page agreement that pledged the withdrawal of each U.S. troops by the pursuing May.

“Today is simply a time for hope,” Mr. Khalilzad said, sitting adjacent to the Taliban person Abdul Ghani Baradar successful Doha.

In the months afterward, U.S. troops began to gully down.

After the predetermination past year, Mr. Blinken asked Mr. Khalilzad to enactment on, successful designation of his “distinguished work” and the request for “continuity,” the State Department said astatine the time.

In April, President Biden announced that helium would fulfill Mr. Trump’s pledge to retreat troops by September. But Mr. Khalilzad said that “Blinken, similar myself and others, would person preferred a conditions-based approach, I believe.”

Mr. Khalilzad continued to prosecute a governmental settlement. With the Taliban demanding the resignation of President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan arsenic a archetypal measurement toward a transitional government, Mr. Khalilzad pressed him to accede.

“This is simply a historical accidental for you,” helium recalled telling Mr. Ghani. “Imagine! Forty years of war, millions killed and injured. And you — it’s during your play that Afghanistan ends its agelong nightmare.”

Mr. Ghani refused. Critics accidental that Mr. Khalilzad’s unit undermined the Afghan person portion legitimizing the Taliban.


Credit...Pete Marovich for The New York Times

The 2 men person known each different for astir 60 years, since their boyhood successful Kabul, wherever Mr. Khalilzad recalled that his parent was protective of his physically smaller friend. “She wanted to marque definite that we weren’t roughing him up oregon anything,” helium said.

The men remained adjacent aft they moved to the United States for their education, but their narration arsenic adults has been colored by decades of ideological and governmental differences.

Mr. Khalilzad denied that helium had leaned excessively connected Mr. Ghani. He besides suggested that Mr. Ghani tragically miscalculated his leverage and failed to recognize that the United States was genuinely leaving.

As the Taliban closed successful connected Kabul successful mid-August, Mr. Ghani fled the country, and his authorities collapsed. The warfare was yet over.

Mr. Khalilzad stayed connected for respective much weeks, helping to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans and pressing the Taliban to signifier an inclusive authorities that respects quality rights.


Credit...Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

On Oct. 18, Mr. Khalilzad submitted his resignation. America’s engagement with Afghanistan has entered a caller phase, helium said, 1 successful which helium was much utile arsenic an autarkic dependable — peculiarly to marque the lawsuit that the United States indispensable enactment with the Taliban to assistance avert Afghanistan’s illness into anarchy that could pb to a surge of refugees and breed terrorism.

Asked whether helium thought helium would acceptable ft again successful the state of his birth, Mr. Khalilzad did not pause.

“Definitely,” helium said. “The conflict for Afghanistan continues.”

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