Zalmay Khalilzad Battles Critics in U.S. and Afghanistan

The war ended under Khalilzad, but not on the terms he had hoped. Instead of a power-sharing government that he imagined could rein in the Taliban, the armed group has taken complete control of the country, which is now facing economic collapse and famine.

“Zal comes out of this as a somewhat tragic figure,” said Eric S. Edelman, a former national security official who worked with Khalilzad under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

As colleagues at the Pentagon in the late 1980s, Mr. Edelman and Mr. Khalilzad helped advance US policy to support mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan resisting the Soviet occupiers. During the Bush administration, they once again supported the resistance fighters, who this time were fighting the Taliban during the invasion of the United States in 2001.

“He did a lot to create a modern, independent post-Taliban state,” Mr. Edelman said of Khalilzad. “And then, being partly the handmaiden of her demise–I don’t know how you can see that as anything other than tragic.”

Khalilzad was out of government for years when, during the 2016 presidential campaign, he presented Mr. Trump in a foreign policy address hosted by a think tank to which he belonged. Khalilzad, a lifelong Republican, has not endorsed Mr. Trump, citing his “provocative views”. But the introduction earned him goodwill in Mr. Trump’s inner circle.

Then, in 2018, Mr. Khalilzad told Trump administration officials that Taliban representatives were interested in talking about a peace agreement. In September of that year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appointed him as an envoy for the “unique mission” of “developing opportunities to bring Afghans and the Taliban to reconciliation.”

In practice, however, the talks focused on the terms of the US withdrawal sought by Mr. Trump. Eighteen months and hundreds of hours of bargaining in Doha, the Qatari capital, yielded an agreement in February 2020 in which the United States agreed to withdraw all its forces and the Taliban promised to stop attacks on American forces and never harbor terrorist groups.

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