Zalmay Khalilzad: too early to judge US Afghanistan intervention a failure

US envoy says withdrawal creates a chance for dialogue

Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad pauses while speaking about the prospects for peace, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, at the U.S. Institute of Peace, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

America's envoy for peace in Afghanistan has said it is too early to judge its two-decade intervention in the country a failure.

Zalmay Khalilzad insisted that Washington’s withdrawal presents Afghanistan with a unique opportunity for dialogue between its warring parties.

Speaking on a panel at the Beirut Institute on Wednesday, Mr Khalilzad, the US’s top diplomat on the peace process in Afghanistan, said US involvement could not be judged a failure as Washington’s policies had changed over the last twenty years.

“Our policy has evolved and adjusted to the circumstances. Initially, we thought the Afghans that we supported defeated the Taliban, and the Taliban disappeared and we thought that there was a military solution,” he said.

“Over time it has become clear that there was no military solution, that the Taliban had reconstituted.

“Why keep doing something that you judge is not going to work? The adjustment was made to negotiate.”

The diplomat, who served as US Ambassador to Afghanistan before taking up his role as Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation in 2018 under President Donald Trump, warned: “It’s too soon to judge it as a failure."

His comments came as the Taliban continued to make major gains across the country after an abrupt withdrawal of US forces. On Wednesday the group claimed to have captured a major border crossing with Pakistan. This week, video footage emerged of it executing 22 Afghan special forces commandos in Faryab province.

Mr Khalilzad also said he took the Taliban on their word that they would not offer sanctuary to terrorist groups.

“The fundamental reason we went was because of 9/11. The Taliban agreed not to allow Al Qaeda or other groups, therefore we came to an agreement with them, and I believe that it is too soon to judge the consequence of the decision that has been made,” he said.

Mr Khalilzad also warned against a complete Taliban takeover of the country.

“A monopoly of power by the Taliban will not stabilise Afghanistan and it will not be accepted as a player in the foreseeable future," he said.

“They can have their weight in the Afghan political future, but others need to be accommodated."

The veteran diplomat ended on an optimistic note, claiming that the US withdrawal had forced the country’s feuding groups into dialogue.

“For the first time in 43 years, the fighting parties of Afghanistan are talking to each other," he said.

“Some are disappointed, some are unhappy, but there wasn’t a realistic alternative that if we continued what we were doing for another 10 years, the problem would have been less.

“This withdrawal gives the opportunity to see if the Afghans can work it out.”

Updated: July 15th 2021, 2:25 PM