DOHA, Qatar. February 29th, 2020. PICTURED: Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators put pen to paper on a pre-peace agreement.
WASHINGTON D.C. January 28th, 2021. Sec. of State Antony Blinken informed reporters on Wednesday at a presser following his confirmation that Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative of the United States to the Taliban under Trump, was asked to stay on and continue “vital work”.
Khalilzad was Trump’s chief negotiator with the Taliban, and a former-senior-level State Dep. diplomat.
“We’ve asked him to continue the vital work that he’s performing,” said Blinken.
Holding positions at the most hawkish foreign policy thinktanks in Washington, Khalilzad was nevertheless instrumental in getting a deal done with the Taliban. His position as Ambassadors to the UN, Iraq, and Afghanistan under Bush Jr., and the fact that he’s an Afghan Pashtun made him perfect for the job.
He stays on now in a Biden Administration that has admitted they are “reviewing” the peace agreements signed by the U.S. and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in 2019.
“One of the things that we need to understand is exactly what is in the agreements that were reached between the United States and the Taliban, to make sure that we fully understand the commitments that the Taliban has made as well as any commitments that we’ve made,” Blinken said.
As things stand
While there have been three ceasefires between Kabul and the Taliban over the Eid holidays, violence continues to rage. As recently as October, the Taliban were attacking 24 provinces daily.
As World at Large reported in November, Biden “inherits a lay-up situation, where an easy slam dunk in the war-ravaged South Asian country would win him plaudits from… left Democrats who supported candidates like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard for the same reasons in the primary”.
Reappointing Khalilzad could be the first step to taking the opportunity presented, but the “review” might find details his administration doesn’t like, and Biden has already publicly said he’s worried about the Islamic State.
In Kabul, President Ghani announced that “a new chapter” had started in their relationship with the country’s American partners, adding “a quick review of the US’s deal with the Taliban will be done by the US National Security Council and then a fundamental consultation will be done with us”.
The talks between the Taliban and Kabul, which the agreement in Doha were set up to create, began in September, but have yet to finish agreeing to procedural norms. On January 6th, according to the local news channel Tolo, there was another meeting between the parties, but no further agenda has been created.
Tolo speculates that the U.S. will announce its position at the annual summit of NATO member states next month, since NATO is currently the present along with U.S. forces in the country.
“I support drawing down the troops. But here’s the problem, we still have to worry about terrorism and [the Islamic State],” Biden told Stars and Stripes in a telephone interview in September.
The agreement with Taliban made in Doha was that the Taliban would not allow the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), and so if all parties hold to the treaty then in theory Biden does not, in fact, have to worry about terrorism and ISKP.
There is no love lost between ISKP, sometimes known as “Daesh”, and the forces of the Kabul government and the Taliban, who like Comanche warriors of old, have started arguments with each other over how many IS members each other killed and who should receive the most credit for their annihilation.
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