Zalmay Khalilzad has resigned as the US special envoy for Afghanistan, the State Department confirmed on Monday.
Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, was first appointed as the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation by the Trump administration in 2018. His negotiations in Qatar with the Taliban led to the signing of the Doha agreement, which paved the way for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Even though the collapse of the Afghan government was inevitable, many in Washington are blaming Khalilzad for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
“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,” Khalilzad wrote in a resignation letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that was obtained by CNN.
For all the heat Khalilzad is getting, the Taliban lived up to their end of the Doha agreement. After the deal was signed in February 2020, the Taliban halted all attacks against US troops in Afghanistan and cooperated closely with the US on the evacuation. Now, the Taliban are calling for diplomatic relations with Washington.
Khalilzad was negotiating with the Taliban until the final days of the US occupation. After the withdrawal was finished, Khalilzad said he reached a last-minute deal in August with the Taliban that was ruined by former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s sudden departure from Afghanistan.
Under the deal, Khalilzad said the Taliban wouldn’t enter the city until the US completed its evacuation. But Ghani unexpectedly fled Afghanistan on August 15th, leaving a security vacuum that caused the Taliban to enter Kabul.
Khalilzad will be replaced by his deputy, Tom West. According to CNN, West recently traveled to Doha with CIA leaders for the first high-level face-to-face meetings with the Taliban since the US withdrawal was completed.
Khalilzad’s foreign policy experience dates all the way back to 1979. As a professor at Columbia University, Khalilzad advised the Carter administration during the early days of US covert assistance to the Afghan mujahideen fighting against the Soviet Union. He joined the State Department in the Reagan administration, where he also advised on Afghanistan policy.
Throughout the 1990s, Khalilzad worked for the RAND Corporation. in 1998, he joined the now-infamous neoconservative think tank Project for a New American Century in sending a letter to President Clinton calling for the US to pursue regime change in Iraq. Khalilzad filled various diplomatic posts throughout the Bush administration, serving as the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the UN.