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US Afghan representative Zalmay Khalilzad quits; pays for pro-Taliban tilt

Zalmay Khalilzad has been criticised for not pressing the Taliban hard enough during peace talks. Current and former US officials told news agency Reuters that in the three years Khalilzad has been in the role, he became the face of one of the largest US diplomatic failures in recent memory.
File photo of Zalmay Khalilzad .(Reuters)
Published on Oct 19, 2021 07:41 AM IST
Byhindustantimes.com | Edited by Amit Chaturvedi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Thomas West has been appointed as the new US special representative to Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in a statement on Monday. This comes after Zalmay Khalilzad resigned from the post following chaotic withdrawal of the American forces from Afghanistan.

"West, who served on then-Vice President Biden's national security team and on the National Security Council staff, will lead diplomatic efforts, advise the Secretary and Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and coordinate closely with the US Embassy Kabul presence in Doha on America's interests in Afghanistan," Blinken said in a statement.

Blinken also thanked Khalilzad for his "decades of service".

"As Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad steps down from his role, I extend my gratitude for his decades of service to the American people," Blinken said in the statement.

Khalilzad was the person who led talks with the Taliban in Qatar that resulted in the Doha agreement between the Islamic group and former US President Donald Trump to fully withdraw US troops by May 2021.

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But he has been criticised for not pressing the Taliban hard enough during peace talks.

Current and former US officials told news agency Reuters that in the three years Khalilzad has been in the role, he became the face of one of the largest US diplomatic failures in recent memory.

US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the veteran American diplomat relinquished leverage to the militant group, continuously undermined the Afghan government, and had little interest in hearing different viewpoints within the American government.

Some officials, lawmakers and foreign policy experts said that he is one of the few US diplomats to have relations with the Taliban and was simply following orders from both Trump and Joe Biden: Get all American troops out of Afghanistan.

In 2019, then president Ashraf Ghani's national security adviser accused Khalilzad of "selling out" the Afghan government in talks while lending the Taliban a façade of credibility. Khalilzad was given a free hand by the Trump administration, but the peace deal he brokered went nowhere. In negotiations, officials said Khalilzad gave away too much early by making clear that Washington was looking to withdraw all of its troops.

Khalilzad has so far declined to comment on the record.

Born in Afghanistan, Khalilzad was a veteran of past Republican administrations who helped President George W Bush plan the overthrow of the Taliban in 2002.

The United States, meanwhile, said on Monday that it will not join talks on Afghanistan announced for this Tuesday by Russia that will include two other key players, China and Pakistan. The state department blamed logistical issues but said it considered the Russian-led forum “constructive.”

“We look forward to engaging in that forum going forward, but we're not in a position to take part this week,” state department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

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