Is Khalilzad responsible for the disaster in Afghanistan

New Delhi: Zalmay Khalilzad, the special US Envoy for Afghanistan has been seen getting humiliation in a viral video. Khalilzad tried to speed up with rapid steps and tried to avoid him.

As the video went viral, it was rapidly shared by journalists, strategic affairs experts, and influencers from around the world, pulling countless reactions from users. Some users condemned the American citizen, while others justified his act. The greater number of responses, however, accused Khalilzad of selling Afghanistan to the Taliban at the behest of Pakistan. 

Many experts on Afghan affairs believe that the biggest ‘credit’ for this plight of Afghanistan and the loss of the country in the hands of the Taliban goes to Zalmay Khalilzad. Moreover, his alleged pro-Pakistan policies have been criticized by the media around the world. The prestigious American news outlet ‘Politico’ stated – “Under peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the administration seems poised to give away everything America has fought for in Afghanistan since 9/11”.

Khalilzad, the key envoy and policy-maker deployed by the US for the Afghan peace process, is understood to have left no stone unturned to ensure that US policy on Afghanistan was in line with Pakistan’s interests and controlled by Pakistan itself. Experts also believe that Khalilzad ensured that after Pakistan directly controls the Afghan peace process, power is ultimately handed over to the Taliban.

His pro-Taliban and pro-Pakistan moves have constantly faced intense opposition by Afghanistan’s military and political leadership. During his visit to the US in 2019, Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib, while addressing reporters in Washington, said that Khalilzad wanted to establish himself as the “viceroy” of a new “caretaker government”. Throughout the course of the Afghan peace talks, Khalilzad’s pro-Pakistan attitude led to squabbles with the Afghan military generals and politicians.

Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan several times during the last one year. The official objective behind these visits was quoted as visits to build consensus with the Pakistan government on the Afghan peace process. Nevertheless, during almost every visit to Pakistan, Khalilzad’s meetings with the Pakistani Army chief and the ISI chief made headlines.

An example of this was recently seen in April 2021. At a time when the Taliban were rampaging in Afghanistan through Pakistan’s support, Khalilzad defended Pakistan during a hearing in the US Senate’s Committee on International Relations, denying Pakistan’s role in supporting the Taliban. Khalilzad assured the Senate committee that the Pakistani leadership has given assurances that it does not support the Taliban and stressed, “I think Pakistan understands the implications of the civil war in Afghanistan.”

Earlier in September 2021, when the Afghan peace process was in its most critical phase, Zalmay Khalilzad first intervened in the peace process for a more ‘inclusive’ role for Pakistan and later travelled to Pakistan to thank its Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa for playing an ‘important role’ in front of the world. With these tricks, he kept throwing dust in the eyes of the world and kept redundantly telling the world that the Afghan peace process would not have been possible without Pakistan.

Moreover, there were several occasions when Khalilzad tendered his unilateral support to save Pakistan from embarrassment and quickly jumped to its rescue. When Pakistan failed to withstand protests from around the world and attacks from the Afghan government after the kidnapping of Silsila Alikhel, the daughter of the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad in July 2021, Khalilzad immediately travelled to Pakistan and met Pakistan Army Chief Bajwa, ISI Chief General Faiz Hamid, and Prime Minister Imran Khan and defended Pakistan in front of the global media.

Ever since Khalilzad was appointed special envoy for Afghanistan by the US, several photographs have surfaced showing his bonhomie with Taliban leaders or making statements in their ‘honour’.

Unlike Khalilzad, there is a leader in Afghanistan who continued to take on the Taliban and attack Pakistan for supporting it. Afghanistan’s First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, who had previously been the head of the Afghan intelligence agency ‘NDS’, continued to openly confront the Taliban. 

In the midst of the Afghan peace process, when Taliban attacks gained momentum, he took the lead and jumped into the fray to protect Afghan civilians. During this time, he continued to devise and carry out counter-terrorist strategies with the military leadership and simultaneously met with foreign diplomats in Kabul in attempts to reduce the influence of Taliban and Pakistan in the peace process.

In July-August 2021, he also took out rallies to unite the people against the Taliban, which resonated with the slogans of ‘Allahu-Akbar’. Meanwhile, to highlight Pakista’s involvement in Afghanistan’s plight, he popularized the #SanctionPakistan hashtag, which still trends on social media on a daily basis.

The major difference in the Taliban’s attitude towards Khalilzad and Saleh was seen in September 2020 when the Taliban was warmly hosting Khalilzad in Qatar’s capital Doha, while devising a plan of a deadly attack on Amrullah Saleh at the same time. On September 9 , 2020, 10 members of Saleh’s security team were killed and 31 were injured in the Taliban attack on the convoy of Saleh. He also narrowly escaped and suffered only minor injuries.

Saleh has been expressing his anguish in front of the world about the Taliban and the Afghans who are supporting Pakistan. Recently, on July 21, 2021, Saleh shared a picture of the Indo-Pakistani 1971 war, in which the Pakistani army had to surrender to the Indian Army. Tweeting this picture, Saleh wrote, “We don’t have such a picture in our history and won’t ever have. Yes, yesterday I flinched for a friction of a second as a rocket flew above & landed few meters away. Dear Pak twitter attackers, Talibn & terrorism won’t heal the trauma of this picture. Find other ways.”

This tweet had enraged several Pakistani leaders and military generals including Pakistani National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf and the entire Pakistani leadership simultaneously attacked him. At the same time, the tweet of Saleh was highly appreciated in India. It is important to mention here that Amrullah Saleh has enjoyed a significant popularity on Twitter and Indians are in majority in his more than 742,000 thousand followers.

Like a fighter who fights till the last breath, Saleh has still not accepted the Taliban rule. After Kabul fell to the Taliban this Sunday, Saleh addressed the Afghan citizens through a tweet the same evening and said, “I will never, ever and under no circumstances bow to d Talib terrorists. I will never betray d soul and legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Masoud, the commander, the legend and the guide. I won’t disappoint millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with the Taliban. NEVER.” Experts on Afghan affairs believe that Saleh, whom the Taliban considers their biggest enemy, has the temperament and courage to fight a long battle with the Taliban. In addition, Saleh has also emerged as a hero in the minds and hearts of the Afghan people due to his stoic and sharp attitude during the Afghan peace process. It will be interesting to see how Saleh takes his fight against the Pakistan-Taliban alliance forward amidst the deteriorating situation