WASHINGTON: Former president Ashraf Ghani’s abrupt exit last month scuttled a deal under which the Taliban would hold off entering Kabul and negotiate a political transition, the US negotiator on Afghanistan said on Wednesday.
In his first interview since the collapse of the 20-year Western-backed government, Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered a deal with the Taliban last year to withdraw US troops, told the Financial Times that the insurgents had agreed to stay outside the capital for two weeks and shape a future government.
“Even at the end, we had an agreement with the Talibs for (them) not to enter Kabul,” he told the newspaper in the interview.
But Ghani fled on Aug 15 and the Taliban, in a previously arranged meeting that day with Gen Frank McKenzie, chief of Central Command, asked if US troops would ensure security for Kabul as government authority crumbled.
“And then you know what happened, we weren’t going to take responsibility,” Khalilzad said.
President Joe Biden had insisted that US troops would only work to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies and not extend America’s longest war. Asked about Khalilzad’s remarks, State Department spokesman Ned Price said it was not an option to stay “a moment longer” in Kabul.
“There was never a realistic, there was never a viable, there was never a practical option for the United States to stay,” Price told reporters.
“We were left with a very clear and stark impression that if the United States sought to prolong our presence on the ground, our service members... would again be targets of Taliban violence, not to mention terrorist attacks by groups like IS (the militant Islamic State group).”
Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2021