US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has announced his resignation less than two months after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of the country. Khalilzad’s deputy Tom West is set to succeed him in the role.
In a statement, US Secretary of State Blinken said, “As Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad steps down from his role, I extend my gratitude for his decades of service to the American people. I thank Ambassador Khalilzad for his service and welcome Special Representative West to the role.”
Blinken said that West will work closely with the US embassy, which is now based in Doha, catering to US interests in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad’s departure comes after his exclusion from the Biden administration’s first formal talks with the Taliban after the US pull-out. The said talks were held in Doha earlier in October.
Khalilzad defends his record
In a letter to Blinken, Khalilzad defended his record but acknowledged that he came up short. The outgoing diplomat said that he wanted to make way during the “new phase of our Afghanistan policy”.
“The political arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban did not go forward as envisaged. The reasons for this are too complex and I will share my thoughts in the coming day and weeks.”
Earlier, speaking to Foreign Policy magazine, Khalilzad had defended his record, saying that the Taliban fulfilled key parts of the February 2020 agreement, including not attacking the departing US troops.
Khalilzad said, “I respect those who say we shouldn’t have negotiated with the Talibs without the government being there. But we don’t know how much more fighting would have taken for the Talibs to agree to that.”
The US envoy said that the US was losing its appetite for another surge of troops in its longest war as “each year we were losing ground to the Talibs. Time was not on our side”.
Legacy: Afghan diplomatic disaster
Afghanistan-born Khalilzad took on the post in 2018 and spearheaded the long negotiations with the Taliban. The dialogue resulted in the February 2020 Doha Agreement for the withdrawal of US forces earlier this year.
Despite his Republican affiliation, US President Joe Biden kept Khalilzad in place after former US President Donald Trump lost the election. Biden also decided to go ahead with the agreed withdrawal.
Khalilzad continued to press the Taliban and the Western-backed government of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to negotiate a political settlement to end decades of armed conflict.
In mid-August, Ghani’s government and the Afghan Armed Forces folded in the face of a sweeping Taliban offensive as the group marched into the capital city of Kabul, facing little to no resistance along the way. In the end, Khalilzad found himself seeking the armed group’s assistance in the US evacuation of American citizens and at-risk Afghans who worked for the US government.
Current and former US officials say that Khalilzad’s handling of Afghanistan represents one of the most significant US diplomatic failures in recent memory.