Zalmay Khalilzad and the U.S. Failure in Afghanistan

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Despite the military presence of the United States of America (USA) in Afghanistan, the Taliban succeeded in seizing Kabul and thus announced to the world that it was the winner of the 20-year war. Both the Afghan people and the American public opinion think that the biggest responsible for the failure of the Washington administration is the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. For this reason, “Does Khalilzad have a share in the Taliban’s domination of Afghanistan again?” with the question “In which subjects did Khalilzad fail?” It is necessary to bring into question.

Khalilzad who originally an Afghan of Pashtun, became one of the most critical figures influencing the Washington administration’s policy towards the country after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. During the USSR-Mujahideen War, Khalilzad drew the attention of U.S. decision makers by writing analyzes for famous American newspapers such as the New York Times, and this process made him an American citizen in 1984.

As it will be remembered, after the Mujahideen came to power in 1992, The United States did not recognize the government in question. As an employee of the United States’ UNICAL gas company, Khalilzad supported the Taliban against the Mujahideen. American interests and being a Pashtun nationalist played a decisive role in his approach.

Even though the Washington administration, with the influence of Khalilzad, initially supported the Taliban, the relations of the USA with the Taliban could not be maintained due to the relations between the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. As a matter of fact, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Washington administration defined the Taliban as a regime that supports terrorism and launched the invasion called “Operation Enduring Freedom”.  During the occupation, then US President George W. Bush appointed Khalilzad, who stood out for his loyalty to the US despite his Afghan origin, as Afghanistan Special Representative and Ambassador to Kabul.

Khalilzad, rather than a representative or ambassador during his tenure; He acted as the real ruler of Afghanistan. In this context, Abdul Sattar Siret of Uzbek origin, who was elected as the head of the interim government at the Bonn Conference, said, “The majority in Afghanistan consists of Pashtuns. Therefore, the leader of the country must be a Pashtun,” he disabled it with the thesis and ensured the election of Hamid Karzai.

Although Khalilzad said that the parliamentary system was the most suitable model for the social structure of the country, while the Afghanistan Constitution was being created in 2004, he led to the establishment of an order in which all powers were gathered under the President. According to the government system dictated by Khalilzad, the Head of State should be chosen from the Pashtuns. The two assistants must be from other ethnic groups. However, although it is stated that the aforementioned assistants represent an identity group, no authority has been given to the aforementioned persons elected by the public. This did nothing but make the ethnic conflicts in the country evident.

Moreover, the system built by Khalilzad; In the 2009, 2014 and 2019 elections, it came to the point of collapse and allegations of fraudulent elections were marked. In the crises experienced, the leaders received the support of the USA. Naturally, the problems could only be overcome by American mediation. Therefore, it can be argued that the main reason for the failure of the Washington administration in the state/nation building process in Afghanistan is the administration system proposed by Khalilzad.

As it is known, Donald Trump, who became the President of the USA in 2016, announced that he would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan and negotiate with the Taliban. In this context, Khalilzad was appointed as the chief negotiator of the negotiations with the Taliban. By ending the psychological pressure on the Taliban, Khalilzad first secured an agreement with the US and the Taliban, and then removed the obstacles to the Taliban’s coming to power. This process, on the other hand, opened up the legitimacy of the Ashraf Ghani administration, who was in power at that time, to debate.

After two years of negotiations, the Doha Agreement was signed on 29 February 2020. Khalilzad interpreted the Doha Treaty as a “historical opportunity” for peace in Afghanistan. While the aforementioned treaty enabled the Taliban to be perceived as a legitimate actor in the international public opinion; on the other hand, 5000 Taliban fighters were released under the treaty. In addition, the United States stopped its military operations against the Taliban. Undoubtedly, the developments have strengthened the Taliban. In the final stage, the Washington administration announced that it would withdraw from Afghanistan until September 11, 2021. This accelerated the advance of the Taliban. The Taliban, on the other hand, demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan by August 31, 2021, after capturing Kabul. The USA and its allies complied with this demand.

Moreover, when the Americans, who occupied the country in question with the claim of fighting terrorism and liberating the Afghan people, were about to withdraw from Afghanistan; On August 26, 2021, it was exposed to the attack of the terrorist organization State al-Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and 13 American soldiers, including Afghans, lost their lives. Therefore, the Taliban’s domination of Afghanistan again and the understanding that various terrorist organizations were present in this country revealed the failure of the USA in the 20-year war.

Currently, the American public opinion and politicians are investigating the reasons for the failure. In this context, in his speech at the Congress, US Chief of Staff Mark Milley evaluated the Taliban’s re-dominance in Afghanistan as a “strategic defeat” and stated that the Doha Agreement was behind this failure. After the aforementioned statements, Khalilzad, who negotiated with the Taliban on behalf of the USA and signed the Doha Treaty, became a controversial figure in the American public opinion. Many senators demanded Khalilzad’s resignation.

In this environment, the fact that Khalilzad did not attend the meeting held by the US delegation and the Taliban representatives in Doha on October 12, 2021 did not escape attention. On October 18, 2021, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced that Khalilzad had resigned and his resignation was approved.

In his letter of resignation, Khalilzad described the US ending the war in Afghanistan within the scope of the Doha Agreement and the Taliban’s breaking of relations with other terrorist organizations, especially Al-Qaeda, as a success. On the other hand, he stated that the Afghan peace process could not reach its goal. He described this failure as the reason for his resignation.

In fact, in a statement he made before his resignation, Khalilzad attributed the reason why the transfer of power did not take place in a healthy way, because Gani left the country. Because he agreed with the Taliban to enter Kabul after reaching a consensus; but he said that Gani left the country and created a gap of authority.

Obviously, it is not realistic to blame Khalilzad alone for the failure of the USA, which has the most powerful diplomatic and intelligence mechanisms in the world, to coordinate the transformation in Afghanistan. However, it is undeniable that Khalilzad had a great responsibility in the course of the developments in question. The reality of today is that the era of Khalilzad in the US policy towards Afghanistan has come to an end.

Ahmad Khan Dawlatyar, 2013 yılında Kunduz Üniversitesi Hukuk ve Siyaset Bilimi Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini Ankara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Siyaset Bilimi Anabilim Dalı’nda “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti ve Afganistan İslam Cumhuriyeti Anayasalarında Güçler Ayrılığı İlkesi Üzerine Karşılaştırmalı Bir Analiz” başlıklı teziyle 2019 yılında almıştır. Çeşitli bilimsel etkinliklere katılan Dawlatyar, Afganistan sorunuyla ilgili bildiriler ve makaleler sunmuştur. Bu kapsamda “Afganistan Sorununun Dini ve İdeolojik Nedenleri” başlıklı sunumu yayınlanmıştır. Halihazırda Ankara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. ANKASAM bünyesinde yürütülen çalışmalara katkıda bulunan Ahmad Khan Dawlatyar’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Afganistan ve Pakistan’dır. Dawlatyar, anadil seviyesinde Farsça, Özbekçe, Türkçe ve Peştunca dillerine hakimdir. Ayrıca orta düzeyde İngilizce bilmektedir.