Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. chief interlocutor for Afghanistan, steps down

3 months ago 28

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Thomas West, who has been Deputy Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation since January this year, will replace Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement

Some two months after the U.S.’s chaotic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s chief negotiator in what was meant to be an Afghan peace settlement, has resigned. Mr. Khalilzad, an Afghan-American, was appointed in 2018 by former U.S. President Donald Trump and continued to hold the position in the Biden administration.

Also read: India’s presence at talks with Taliban an important step, says Zalmay Khalilzad

Thomas West, who has been Deputy Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation since January this year, will replace Mr. Khalilzad, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said via a statement. In his role as Deputy, Mr. West had already met Taliban representatives in Doha after the American departure. He also made a trip to Kabul with CIA Director William Burns, as per a CNN report.

“Thank you to Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad for decades of tireless service to the United States,” Mr. Blnken said on Twitter, shortly after the official announcement went out.

Mr. Khalilzad has been criticised for orchestrating a February 2020 deal with the Taliban, details of which were mostly hammered out in Doha, cutting out the former Afghan government. The U.S. agreed to withdraw its troops by May 2021 (originally) with the Taliban refraining from attacking the troops in return. Mr. Biden extended the withdrawal deadline to August 31.

After the U.S. departure, Mr. Khalilzad had helped get Americans and vulnerable Afghans out of the country, the New York Times reported.

“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,” Mr. Khalilzad said in his resignation letter, as reported in Politico. Earlier he had dismissed the notion that the Afghan forces would surrender to the Taliban.

“I personally believe that the statements that their forces will disintegrate and the Talibs will take over in short order are mistaken,” Mr. Khalilzad had told the House of Representatives in May this year.

Mr. Khalilzad had said, in an interview to The Hindu in May 2020, that the U.S. could not see a “better alternative” to the deal it had struck with the Taliban and that India should directly engage with the outfit.

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