Afghans have denounced Khalilzad’s resignation as a betrayal.
Former US Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said he remains committed to working for peace in the war-torn country, Pajhwok Afghan News reported on Wednesday.
Khalilzad’s statement came a day after his resignation was announced, which came just weeks after Washington’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan. He is now replaced by his deputy, Thomas West.
“US forces are out, and the war is over for the United States. But this is not the final chapter. The Afghan people face great challenges ahead, including on the economy and security fronts,” said the former official in the first statement since his resignation.
He also promised that the US would continue to stand with Afghans.
Questions over Khalilzad’s possible resignation first surfaced earlier this month after he failed to attend talks between the US and Afghanistan’s Taliban-led interim government, the first such discussions to take place since the foreign troop withdrawal in August.
In the resignation letter obtained by CNN reporter Natasha Bertrand, Khalilzad said that “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 days and weeks, after leaving government service,” he added.
The Afghan-born envoy had served as the US representative to Afghanistan throughout the former Donald Trump presidency and under the Joe Biden presidency for nine months.
Last year, Khalilzad led face-to-face negotiations between the Taliban and the US, which resulted in the signing of a February agreement in Qatar that set 1 May 2021 as the deadline for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces.
Under the agreement, the troop pull out was set to be conducted on the condition that the Taliban halts its support for terrorist organisations. The accord also stipulated the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters in exchange for 1,000 Afghan government prisoners held by the group.
However, President Biden changed the deadline to 11 September this year – before it was later revised to 31 August – without conditions.
Many Afghans believe the agreement paved the way for the collapse of the former Afghan administration, accusing Khalilzad of being behind the damage.
“Zalmay Khalilzad was firstly and lastly an American diplomat entrusted to deliver what the White House wanted. That was the case in the 80s/early 2000s/late 2010s. In Iraq and Afghanistan. Love or hate him, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture and inadvertently exonerate DC,” tweeted Ahmed-Waleed Kakar, a London based independent analyst and the founder of The Afghan Eye, in response to Khalilzad’s resignation.
In a previous interview with Foreign Policy, Khalilzad defended his actions by saying that the Taliban did fulfil key areas of the February agreement by not attacking American troops during their exit from the country.
“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,” he said.