Khalilzad blames Ghani for ruining last chance for a political deal

Photo: US Institute of Peace

Former top negotiator for US-Taliban talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, said there was still a glimmer of hope for a power-sharing deal before the Taliban took over Kabul until August 15, 2021, but former president Ashraf Ghani’s fleeing from the country ruined the chance.

“It’s very unfortunate that we couldn’t get a political agreement before the Taliban moved in,” Khalilzad said in an interview Axios published on Monday.

Explaining the last chance for a political deal in the county, Khalilzad said in the Axios interview that “the Taliban had agreed to halt its advance outside Kabul and meet a delegation of senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai. But when President Ashraf Ghani fled, he left a vacuum.”

The Taliban initially offered to let the US military secure Kabul temporarily, Khalilzad said as quoted by Axios, adding that then-CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie later testified that there was no “formal offer” from the Taliban, and “we did not have the resources to undertake that mission.”

This did not happen. Taliban fighters were getting closer to the city of Kabul on August 15. By evening that day, the Taliban entered the Presidential Palace known as Arg.

The Taliban has been under harsh criticism over the last year for their restrictions on women’s rights and freedoms, secondary schooling for girls, restrictions on the media and many more.

Khalilzad argued in Axios interview that until the group moves toward a more inclusive government and society, it won’t gain broad acceptance domestically or recognition and sanctions relief internationally.

Quoted by Axios, Khalilzad said his understanding is that the US has signaled to the Taliban that it would be open to talks if two conditions are met: that American detainee Mark Frerichs be released and that schools be reopened to girls.

Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden announced that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a US drone strike in Kabul. The Taliban blamed the US for violating the Doha agreement and said the group was not aware of Zawahiri’s “return or stay” in Kabul.

Khalilzad said that the harboring of Zawahiri by at least some elements of the Taliban was a “clear violation” of the Doha Agreement, which he negotiated and signed in 2020
He said in the interview that the sudden Taliban takeover last August left the sides without a clear roadmap for implementing some aspects of the deal.

This comes as Ghani in an interview in the UAE last week blamed Khalilzad for the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.