Under peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the administration seems poised to give away everything America has fought for in Afghanistan since 9/11.
Last week, Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, launched into a broadside against Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American diplomat responsible for negotiating with the Taliban. Addressing reporters in Washington, Mohib insinuated that Khalilzad is seeking to install himself as the “viceroy” of a new “caretaker government.” The State Department quickly issued a sharp rebuke, saying that any condemnation of Khalilzad was really a critique of its leader, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
While Mohib’s specific charge may have been hyperbole, it almost certainly wasn’t a slip of the tongue. Mohib has been around Washington for years, including as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., so he knew how his words would be received. His harsh critique of Khalilzad reflects the Afghan government’s deep mistrust of the Trump administration’s plans. Everyone knows that President Donald Trump wants out of Afghanistan, and the Afghans know that the State Department’s dealings with the Taliban will not deliver “peace.” Instead, Khalilzad’s talks have further empowered the same jihadists America has been fighting for nearly two decades.
The Taliban has repeatedly dismissed the elected Afghan government as an illegitimate “puppet” of the U.S. and refused to talk with President Ashraf Ghani’s representatives. Khalilzad’s diplomacy has validated the Taliban’s claim. The State Department long maintained that the talks must be “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned,” but nobody seems to have told Khalilzad. He caved to the Taliban’s demand for unilateral negotiations with the U.S. early on, holding extensive two-party talks without any preconditions. Incredibly, though the Afghan government has never been invited to the negotiating table, Khalilzad has already announced that a “draft” agreement is in place. Only after this accord with the Taliban is “finalized” can the Afghan government hope to participate in “intra-Afghan negotiations.”
But meaningful peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government are not likely to happen. The Taliban is fighting to resurrect its totalitarian Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and has already established a shadow government throughout parts of the country. The jihadists’ rulers-in-waiting do not intend to share power with the elected Afghan government—they quite openly plan to usurp it. And they are closer to achieving that goal today than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001. With American and NATO forces preparing to leave, why would the Taliban suddenly get serious about peace? Indeed, the jihadists know that one of the last major obstacles to their victory is about to be removed.
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