Former US envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a TV programme. File photo
The Afghan-born Khalilzad, speaking for the first time since his resignation was announced on October 18, also expressed reservations about the decision by the Biden administration to lift conditions on the withdrawal deal he had negotiated with the insurgents during the administration of President Donald Trump.
The agreement signed on February 29, 2020 between Washington and the Taliban — which excluded Ghani's government in Kabul — paved the way for the US to end its longest war.
But it was "a conditions-based package" that included negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul, as well as a permanent, comprehensive cease-fire, Khalilzad said.
Mullah Abdul Ghani (right) and Zalmay Khalilzad shake hands after signing an agreement in Doha. File/Reuters
Once in the White House, however, President Joe Biden decided "to do a calendar-based withdrawal," without regard to those conditions, he said.
"That was a decision made way above my pay grade," he added.
Talks between the insurgents and Kabul had begun but were dragging, and Washington feared the Taliban would resume attacks on US forces if they stayed in the country much longer — a situation Khalilzad acknowledged as he admitted things did not work out the way he had wanted.
He placed most of the blame on Ghani, who Khalilzad said never agreed to share power with the Taliban.
Former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani attends a meeting. File photo
"They preferred the status quo to a political settlement," he said of the Kabul government.
"And then when it became clear that the US was leaving, then they — they miscalculated the effects of the continuing war. They were not serious about the political settlement.
"It's my judgment that we didn't press him hard enough. We were gentle with President Ghani. We used diplomacy. We encouraged him."
He said that under the original conditional withdrawal agreement, the Taliban would have eventually agreed to power-sharing, though his evidence for that was unclear.
Biden had set a departure date of August 31 for the final withdrawal.
US President Joe Biden speaks during a conference. File photo
But in the months and weeks leading up to that date the Taliban offensive surged. On August 15 Ghani fled Kabul as government authority crumbled and the Taliban marched into the capital city.
Khalilzad — derided in Afghanistan for, among other things, cutting Kabul out of the US-Taliban deal, and who has also been much criticized in Washington since the takeover — has blamed Ghani before.
He told the “Financial Times” in September that Ghani's abrupt exit scuttled a deal in which the Taliban would hold off entering Kabul and negotiate a political transition.
His remarks come against the backdrop of the difficulties US negotiators face in shepherding the Afghan government and Taliban towards intra-Afghan negotiations, according to Western diplomats.
The US-Taliban deal signed on Feb. 29 was touted as Washington's effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan. The next crucial step was to be intra-Afghan talks in which all factions including the Taliban would negotiate a road map for their country's future.
According to a pool report from a journalist accompanying Pompeo, the top US diplomat was welcomed by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — the lead US negotiator in recent talks with the Taliban — after arriving at Kabul airport.
The envoy, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of a February agreement with the Taliban clearing the way for a US troop withdrawal, met Taliban leaders in Doha on Wednesday, hours after meeting government leaders in Kabul.
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