Khalilzad’s leap out of relative obscurity came with the post-9/11 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, an Afghan Loya Jirga assembly indicated by a clear majority that they wanted their aged king, Zahir Shah, to return from his long exile in Rome to preside over the government. This was not to the taste of presidential special envoy, and later ambassador, Khalilzad, who importuned Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi to prevent the Shah from leaving Rome as he meanwhile brusquely informed the Loya Jirga that their leader was to be Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun of modest reputation.
Afghan politicians of all stripes concluded that Khalilzad had purposefully picked someone with little internal support in order to ensure that his own authority remained unchallenged. This authority he exercised by operating as supreme warlord, rewarding or threatening the lesser strongmen who had emerged in various provincial power bases with grants of aid or threats of airstrikes from the bombers and Predator drones at his command.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who signed the Doha agreement with Mullah Baradar in 2020, arranged a visit of Taliban leaders to Unocal offices in the US in 1997. Former US Ambassador to Pakistan, Robert Oakley, and Hamid Karzai were also working for Unocal in those days. Naseerullah Babar told me that Unocal provided money to the Taliban in 1995 for setting up a communication system between Kandahar and Quetta. Unocal wanted the Taliban to protect a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan.
How do you explain that those talks in Doha were carried out by an Afghan-born U.S. official who had worked as a lobbyist for the Taliban when they were last in power? How do you explain that those talks were carried out in Pashtu, with no other U.S. official present, or none who understood the language?In whose interest was the U.S. envoy really negotiating? Where has that envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, been since Kabul fell?What exactly is in the agreement he negotiated under the Trump Administration? Now that U.S. personnel are out of Afghanistan, will President Biden declassify the secret annexes, so we can all know -- Afghans and Americans alike -- what vital U.S. national interests that agreement protects?