Zalmay Khalilzad, Biden’s envoy for Afghanistan, resigns

WASHINGTON – Zalmay Khalilzad, President Biden’s envoy to Afghanistan and one of the few appointed by Trump to remain in the new administration, is leaving the government, the State Department said on Monday.

Mr. Khalilzad, 70, born in Afghanistan and raised in the capital, Kabul, was a veteran of the former Republican administrations when President Donald J. Trump appointed him in September 2018 to continue peace negotiations with the Taliban.

He spent much of the next 18 months in Doha, Qatar, meeting with representatives of the Taliban to craft a deal, signed in February 2020, under which the Trump administration pledged to completely withdraw US troops it Mr. Biden completed in August.

For his detractors, Mr. Khalilzad enabled a peace process that was little more than a fig leaf for Mr. Trump’s determination to leave Afghanistan quickly, regardless of the fate of his government or his people. In recent talks, Khalilzad claimed he had not set overall US policy and had obtained as many concessions as he could from the Taliban leadership.

In an October 18 resignation letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in which he announced he would resign on Tuesday, Mr. Khalilzad said he was invited to join the Trump administration “after taking over the decision to significantly reduce or end the military and economic burden of the Afghan engagement on the United States and free up those resources for vital priorities, including national needs and the challenge of dealing with issues related to China. ”

Mr. Khalilzad, who has long supported the vision of a more modernized, pluralist and democratic Afghanistan, lamented in his letter that “the political arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban has not gone as planned.”

“The reasons are too complex and I will share my thoughts in the days and weeks to come, after leaving the public service,” he wrote.

As the Taliban invaded the country in August, capturing city after city, Khalilzad continued to negotiate with its leaders, urging them to negotiate a peaceful political transition and a political power-sharing agreement with the Afghan government. He was unable to do so until President Ashraf Ghani left the country on August 15, saying he feared for his life.

After the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, Mr. Khalilzad helped facilitate the safe passage of American civilians and Afghans at risk. A total of 120,000 people were evacuated from the country.

A naturalized American citizen, Mr. Khalilzad has been personally involved throughout his life in the country he first left for the United States as a high school exchange student. He was President George W. Bush’s envoy to the White House for Afghanistan, then US ambassador, and even once considered running for the Afghan presidency.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Khalilzad introduced Mr. Trump ahead of a foreign policy speech hosted by the Center for National Interest, to which Mr. Khalilzad was affiliated, and was awarded the post of envoy in Afghanistan under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Many Democrats assumed Mr. Khalilzad would step down from government at the end of the Trump administration, but Mr. Blinken asked him to remain in his post, with the official title of Special Envoy for Reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Mr. Blinken appreciated Mr. Khalilzad’s deep acquaintance with the Taliban leadership as the Biden administration continued to negotiate the terms of America’s military exit. Mr. Khalilzad also benefited from his relationship with Mr. Biden, whom he welcomed on his visits to Afghanistan when he was Ambassador and Mr. Biden as a Senator.

In a statement Monday, Mr. Blinken thanked Mr. Khalilzad for his “decades of service to the American people.” Mr Blinken said Khalilzad’s deputy Tom West would become the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Mr. Khalilzad has already begun to ruminate in public on how the US project in Afghanistan has failed so badly.

In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine published last month, he said the idea that he had made the decision to withdraw all US troops from the country “is mind-boggling,” and joked that he was flattered. to the idea that he was the mastermind of the American Exit.

He said the important questions he would think about were whether America’s “ambitions were too big for strategy and resources” and whether Washington “should have pushed harder for a political settlement sooner.”

And he ultimately blamed the Afghan government for not accepting a growing reality in recent years.

“I think the Afghan leadership’s big miscalculation was that we weren’t going to leave,” he said.

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