As Joe Biden seeks to convey America’s longest-running struggle to an in depth, a longtime Republican is main the US president’s efforts to shepherd a peace settlement in Afghanistan that might put the Taliban into authorities.
Zalmay Khalilzad, Donald Trump’s former envoy to Afghanistan, is spearheading renewed US talks following a deal he struck on behalf of Washington with the Taliban final yr. This month Washington proposed a convention of Afghan and Taliban leaders to maneuver in the direction of an interim power-sharing authorities.
At stake is whether or not the Biden administration will preserve to a May 1 deadline to pull out the remaining 2,500 US troops who’re formally nonetheless stationed in Afghanistan, and ship on Biden’s promise to finish the so-called perpetually wars.
Afghanistan-born Khalilzad is called a well-connected geostrategist who has labored on the area for 4 many years, together with as US ambassador to Afghanistan underneath George W Bush. But Biden’s particular consultant for Afghanistan reconciliation has additionally drawn criticism in Kabul for giving quick shrift to the civilian authorities that Washington spent nearly 20 years preventing a struggle — and an estimated $1tn — attempting to assist.
Khalilzad’s efforts are a “last-ditch attempt to try and salvage something after a very non-productive year of negotiations since the deal was signed”, stated Ahmed Rashid, writer of books on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban, of the US envoy’s new goal to dealer a power-sharing settlement.
“The Taliban have a great habit and great skill at playing one neighbouring state off another,” he stated, including that co-ordinating a global consensus could be essential for any probability of success.
US withdrawal dangers the collapse of civilian rule in Afghanistan and the prospect of takeover by the Taliban, which has vowed to not co-operate with al-Qaeda and different teams that threaten US safety in trade for troop withdrawals. If the US stays, it might be focused by the Taliban or al-Qaeda as soon as extra.
As US vice-president, Biden opposed troop will increase throughout Barack Obama’s administration that pushed the variety of American forces above 100,000. The Biden administration has but to resolve whether or not it would withdraw after May 1, however Washington’s international coverage elite has begun to put the groundwork for a brief extension or perhaps a lasting presence.
Khalilzad tweeted that the Afghan authorities and the Taliban “must find a path to a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” following his talks in Kabul this month.
Turkey has supplied to host talks subsequent month and Russia, which has lent assist for a authorities that features the Taliban, will even host talks later this week that Khalilzad will attend. Khalilzad could show essential to such efforts. “He knows the faults of both sides, he knows the personalities involved,” stated Rashid, who has identified him for the reason that Nineteen Eighties. “He’s got longevity.”
Washington has made clear one among its chief pursuits is ending the specter of assaults from al-Qaeda and others on US soil, however sees lasting political settlement in Kabul as central to the duty — elusive twin targets.
“The feeling is, and this been expressed in the negotiations I believe, that [the Taliban] haven’t sufficiently separated themselves from al-Qaeda and that there hasn’t been the diminished levels of violence that were expected to flow from the agreement,” stated James Dobbins, former US particular envoy to Afghanistan for whom Khalilzad used to work.
But crafting a deal to fuse the Taliban’s Islamist ideology with civilian democratic rule could show unattainable to reconcile, particularly over sturdy nationwide safety preparations and the rights of girls, which have seen good points for the reason that US overthrew Taliban rule in 2001.
Michael O’Hanlon, who was amongst a number of senior advisers to a bipartisan Washington report that final month advisable extending the May 1 deadline, described Khalilzad as “master tactician and lubricator and facilitator”, however stated he had not “seen it as his job . . . to drive the substantive debate about power-sharing, and what it really looks like”.
Madiha Afzal on the Brookings Institution said final month any Taliban takeover would danger huge repercussions, together with a strengthened al-Qaeda and a significant setback for Afghan ladies’s rights and democracy. Afghan officers have argued US withdrawal might unleash the specter of al-Qaeda around the globe.
Khalilzad, who was additionally US ambassador to Iraq and the UN underneath George W Bush, is not any stranger to coverage setbacks. He secured Kabul authorities assist for his plan to achieve out to the Taliban in 2005, travelling to outlying provinces to encourage insurgents to hitch a political course of, however didn’t ship reconciliation. He blamed what he stated was Pakistan’s “double game” and its maintain over the Taliban, however he additionally felt repeatedly let down by his personal capital.
“The United States fell far short of its aspirations in Afghanistan and Iraq — a reality that weighs deeply on me,” he wrote in his 2016 memoir The Envoy.
Khalilzad has begun urgent Pakistan to affect the Taliban in Afghanistan to abide by the phrases of the peace settlement, a senior Pakistan authorities official advised the FT. “The Americans want Pakistan to help keep the Taliban on the table,” the official stated.
Dobbins, who has authored a number of papers with Khalilzad, stated the US confronted undesirable outcomes on all sides and that any time-bound dedication to withdraw US troops unrelated to progress in negotiations was “flawed”.
“If the US leaves before there’s an agreement, there’ll never be an agreement,” he stated.
But Farkhonda Akbari, an Afghan educational on the Australian National University, stated nobody in Kabul had believed Khalilzad might pull off a severe peace course of since talks first began in October 2018.
“I think the new plan is pulling a rabbit out of the hat,” she stated. “If someone believes in magic this is it.”