• Monday, Dec 06, 2021
  • Last Update : 05:46 pm

US envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad quits

  • Published at 03:08 pm October 19th, 2021
US Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad
Zalmay Khalilzad, special envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 27, 2021 AFP

In a letter to Secretary of State, Khalilzad acknowledged that he came up short and said he wanted to step aside during the 'new phase of our Afghanistan policy'

Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran US envoy whose months of patient hotel-ballroom diplomacy helped end the US war in Afghanistan but failed to prevent a Taliban takeover, resigned on Monday.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Khalilzad defended his record but acknowledged that he came up short and said he wanted to step aside during the "new phase of our Afghanistan policy."

"The political arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban did not go forward as envisaged," he wrote.

"The reasons for this are too complex and I will share my thoughts in the coming day and weeks."

Born in Afghanistan, the dapper 70-year-old academic turned US diplomat took senior positions as part of the inner circle of former president George W. Bush, becoming the US ambassador to Kabul and then Baghdad and the United Nations.

As former president Donald Trump itched to end America's longest war in Afghanistan, he brought back Khalilzad, who led exhaustive talks with the Taliban -- without including the US-backed government in Kabul.

Those talks led to a February 2020 agreement in which US troops would leave the following year.

But peace negotiations between the Taliban and the leadership in Kabul failed to gain traction, and the government that the United States built over 20 years crumbled within days as US troops left.

Rare US figure

Steeped in Afghanistan’s language and customs, Khalilzad was a rare US diplomat able to develop a cordial rapport with Taliban leaders whose regime was toppled by the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks over its welcome to Al-Qaeda.

Khalilzad, despite his Republican affiliation, was kept in place when Democratic President Joe Biden defeated Trump and decided to go ahead with the withdrawal.

Khalilzad soon became a lightning rod for criticism, with even his superiors in the Biden administration -- while voicing respect for him personally -- faulting the diplomacy behind the 2020 agreement.

Blinken said that Khalilzad's deputy, Thomas West, would take over as the special envoy.

West is a long-time aide to Biden, serving on his staff when he was vice president. West has worked for years on South Asia policy including on the US-India civilian nuclear deal.

Shortly before Khalilzad's resignation became public, the State Department said the United States would not be able to attend a new session called on Tuesday by Russia that also includes China and Pakistan, historically the Taliban's primary backer.

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