US should have pushed ex-Afghan president Ghani harder, says Khalilzad

Published October 25, 2021
In this file photo, then-US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, speaks to reporters at the United Nations headquarters. — AP/File
In this file photo, then-US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, speaks to reporters at the United Nations headquarters. — AP/File

WASHINGTON: The United States did not put enough pressure on former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani to share power with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, who recently resigned as US envoy to Afghanistan, said in an interview broadcast on Sunday on CBS.

The Afghan-born Khalilzad, speaking for the first time since his resignation was announced on Oct 18, also expressed reservations about the decision by the Biden administration to lift conditions on the withdrawal deal he had negotiated with the Islamist insurgents during the administration of President Donald Trump.

The agreement signed on Feb 29, 2020 between Washington and the Taliban — which excluded Ghani’s government in Kabul — paved the way for the US to end its longest war.

But it was “a conditions-based package” that included negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul, as well as a permanent, comprehensive ceasefire, Khalilzad said.

Once in the White House, however, President Joe Biden decided “to do a calendar-based withdrawal,” without regard to those conditions, he said. “That was a decision made way above my pay grade,” he added.

Talks between the insurgents and Kabul had begun but were dragging, and Washington feared the Taliban would resume attacks on US forces if they stayed in the country much longer — a situation Khalilzad acknowledged as he admitted things did not work out the way he had wanted.

He placed most of the blame on Ghani, who Khalilzad said never agreed to share power with the Taliban.

“They preferred the status quo to a political settlement,” he said of the Kabul government.

“And then when it became clear that the US was leaving, then they — they miscalculated the effects of the continuing war. They were not serious about the political settlement.

“It’s my judgment that we didn’t press him hard enough. We were gentle with President Ghani. We used diplomacy. We encouraged him.”

He said that under the original conditional withdrawal agreement, the Taliban would have eventually agreed to power-sharing, though his evidence for that was unclear.

Biden had set a departure date of August 31 for the final withdrawal.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2021

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