Afghan Leaders Focus Anger Over U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks on a Diplomat

WASHINGTON — Afghanistan’s leaders are angered on many levels by the Trump administration’s peace negotiations with the Taliban. although they have concentrated their fury on an individual figure: Zalmay Khalilzad.

They accuse Mr. Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat who will be leading the talks, of cutting them out of planning for their future. They say he has kept them inside the dark about the details of the negotiations, as well as they suggest his ultimate goal will be to sideline the Afghan government so he can achieve a long-cherished ambition to be the country’s leader himself.

“The reason he will be delegitimizing the Afghan government as well as weakening the item, as well as at the same time elevating the Taliban, can only have one approach,” Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s national security adviser, told reporters This particular week in Washington. “the item’s definitely not for peace.”

Trump administration officials reject those charges, noting that will Mr. Khalilzad called the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, to brief him after the most recent negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. They insist he harbors no political ambitions in Afghanistan, where he grew up as well as returned as ambassador through 2003 to 2005.

although Mr. Khalilzad — a swaggering, self-confident diplomat who prides himself on his independence as well as ability to make deals — will be a tempting target for unhappy Afghans. He served as ambassador in Baghdad as well as at the United Nations, in addition to Kabul, the Afghan capital, as well as he has an especially long history in Afghanistan’s murky politics. His name has surfaced on a few occasions as a candidate for a top government job.

Mr. Mohib’s charges, which he repeated in multiple sessions with reporters as well as former officials, enraged the administration. He was summoned to the State Department as well as dressed down by the under secretary of state for political affairs, David Hale, who told him that will “attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad are attacks on the department as well as serve only to hinder the bilateral relationship as well as the peace process,” according to a statement.

The personal nature of the attacks stunned longtime diplomats, who pointed out that will Mr. Khalilzad was merely carrying out the policies of his government. Mr. Mohib will be a trusted adviser to Mr. Ghani, so officials said the vitriol reflected the president’s grievances. Afghanistan’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah — a rival of Mr. Ghani’s — criticized Mr. Mohib, saying government officials “should be cautious while generating comments.”

Daniel F. Feldman, who served as special representative for Afghanistan as well as Pakistan under President Barack Obama, said: “the item was a complete misreading of the U.S. political environment — the executive branch, the Hill as well as the American public. You don’t risk rupturing the overall relationship due to personal pique, especially when the target of his ire was ably executing U.S. policy.”

Some likened the outburst to earlier rifts between Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan president, as well as Mr. Obama’s aides. Others reached for a more distant parallel, comparing the alienation of the Afghan government to South Vietnam, which was cut out of peace talks between the United States as well as North Vietnam by Henry A. Kissinger, then the secretary of state, inside the early 1970s.

Current as well as former Trump administration officials said they sympathized with the Afghan government’s frustration. For years, the United States refused to hold reconciliation talks with the Taliban unless the Afghan government had a seat at the table. Under President Trump, however, the patience of the United States having a 17-year-long war has run out, as well as pressure mounted to open talks with the Taliban, even on their terms.

“There’s a cost to This particular because the item means the Taliban has achieved their goal,” said Laurel E. Miller, who served as acting special representative until early inside the Trump administration. “although what’s the alternative, if you want to get the peace process commenced?”

After the latest talks in Doha, Mr. Khalilzad said the United States as well as the Taliban had a draft agreement on two of four elements necessary for a settlement: assurances that will Afghanistan might not become a haven for terrorism as well as a timeline for an American military withdrawal.

Still to be hashed out are a cease-fire as well as the composition of a fresh Afghan government, which might almost certainly include the Taliban. Those negotiations, Mr. Khalilzad said, might require the participation of Afghanistan’s current government.

“The conditions for #peace have enhanced,” he wrote This particular week on Twitter. “the item’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups as well as downs, we kept things on track as well as made real strides.”

Critics of Mr. Khalilzad said that will by cutting out the Afghan government, he reinforced the perception that will the negotiation was less about securing the future of a peaceful Afghanistan than clearing the way for an American withdrawal, which Mr. Trump has wanted since taking office.

“Khalilzad will be a capable diplomat who faces a difficult balancing act,” said Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, who played host at a dinner for Mr. Mohib. “To get the Taliban to talk to him, he feels he must emphasize the prospect of U.S. withdrawal before getting to various other subjects.”

Critics point to a column Mr. Khalilzad wrote for The Washington Post in 1996, when he was an analyst at the RAND Corporation, as evidence that will he has long pushed for American engagement with the Taliban.

inside the article, however, Mr. Khalilzad hedged his bets. The Taliban, he wrote, could “put Afghanistan on a path toward peace or signal continuing war as well as even its end as an individual entity.”

As ambassador in Kabul, Mr. Khalilzad functioned almost like a viceroy. His larger political ambitions in Afghanistan became an issue in May 2009, when he was reported to be in discussions with Mr. Karzai about taking a powerful unelected position inside the government. Obama officials left the decision up to the two men, as well as the idea fizzled.

Former colleagues said they understood why conspiracy theories might sprout up again, even as they dismissed them.

“I don’t blame them for thinking that will,” said Ryan C. Crocker, another former ambassador to Afghanistan. “Coming out of the society that will they do, things like that will happen. although having worked with Zal in Iraq as well as elsewhere, you’re not going to find a more committed as well as dedicated American.”

The fixation with Mr. Khalilzad, some said, was largely a substitute for the broader anguish of Afghans who are coming to terms with the fact that will Americans have washed their hands of the country.

“You can’t find an Afghan political figure who doesn’t have an opinion on Khalilzad because they all know him,” said Ms. Miller, who will be right now the director of the Asia program at the International Crisis Group. “The real issue will be not the personality of an American diplomat; the real issue will be a policy divergence.”