Home South Asia Afghanistan Kabul’s Frustration with Ambassador Khalilzad erupts into a US-Afghan Diplomatic Row

Kabul’s Frustration with Ambassador Khalilzad erupts into a US-Afghan Diplomatic Row

Ambassador Khalilzad
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Hamdullah Mohib’s statements accusing US Special Representative Khalilzad and the US peace efforts of “delegitimizing” the Ghani-led Afghan government have garnered a great deal of antagonism from the US. On 14th February, Hamdullah Mohib, an Afghan national security adviser, levelled serious accusations at Zalmay Khalilzad over his failure to involve Kabul in the Doha talks with the Taliban and even accused him of harbouring ambitions to run for the Afghan political office.

While addressing the press at the Afghan embassy in Washington, Hamdullah Mohib levelled out a series of tough accusations. He said, “The reason he is delegitimizing the Afghan government and weakening it, and at the same time elevating the Taliban, can only have one approach. It’s definitely not for peace.”

US Ambassador Khalilzad is under extreme pressure to bring about an intra-Afghan dialogue before the upcoming Afghan election.

It is interesting to note that while the Afghan government and its officials have always complained about not being included in the peace process, public displays of their displeasure, and that too direct accusations against the US government and its representatives have not been witnessed before. In a first of its kind, Mohib’s accusations painted a bitter picture of Kabul’s resentment towards not being briefed by Ambassador Khalilzad as he went straight to Washington from Doha instead of stopping over at Kabul.

Mohib went onto say, “Knowing Ambassador Khalilzad’s history, his own personal history, he has ambitions in Afghanistan. He wanting to run for president twice. The perception in Afghanistan and people in government think that perhaps, perhaps all this talk is to create a caretaker government of which he will then become the viceroy.” On being asked if the Kabul government had been briefed on the proceedings of the recent talks held in Doha, Mohib replied, “No. We get bits and pieces of information. We don’t know what’s going on. We don’t have the kind of transparency that we should have, the last people to find out are us.”

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The Afghan Online Press quoted Mohib’s lack of faith in Taliban’s intentions of brokering peace in Afghanistan, he said, “The Taliban are in no mood to negotiate with the Afghan government, and there is no reason for them to do so. They’re gaining. Their sole aim and expectation and reasons in wanting to talk directly with the United States is to give themselves legitimacy.” Mohib further added, “We think either Ambassador Khalilzad, doesn’t know how to negotiate or there may be other reasons behind what he’s doing.”

Mohib expressed the discontentment of Kabul over the statements issued by the USA and Pakistan over the ongoing talks and accused reinstated that the Afghan government has not been made privy to the details of the discussion. NBC News quoted him to have said, “We like to hear that progress is made. But what is it? Our understanding is if there is a deal, it’s a bad deal.” Mohib added that the US government must negotiate the withdrawal of its troops with the Afghan government directly to uphold their “bilateral agreement”. He accused Washington of “undercutting its ally” while legitimizing the Taliban.

Mohib added that the US government must negotiate the withdrawal of its troops with the Afghan government directly to uphold their “bilateral agreement”.

Mohib is quoted to have said, “We are told that Ambassador Khalilzad is a great diplomat and he knows what he’s doing. I’m not sure I buy that. He is ostracizing, alienating a very trusted ally and partner.” The Afghan National Security Advisor concluded that even though Ambassador Khalilzad has been assigned the responsibility of reconciliation, “he is not reconciling, he is alienating”.

Read more: Afghanistan: 40 years of conflict

USA Slams down Mohib’s “Attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad”

Mohib’s accusations against Ambassador Khalilzad received strong condemnation from Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, who “summoned” Mohib to offer an explanation for his remarks. Robert Palladino, a spokesperson for the US State Department reported that Hale had dismissed Mohib’s remarks against the “US approach to reconciliation” and stressed that there “is no lack of coordination” between Washington and Kabul.

During a press briefing at the State Department, NBC News reports that Palladino provided with the details of the meeting between Afghan National Security Advisor Mohib and Under Secretary of State of Political Affairs David Hale. Palladino asserted that Hale made it clear to Mohib that Ambassador Khalilzad represented Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, and also warned that “attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad are attacks on the Department and only serve to hinder the bilateral relationship and the peace process.”

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Palladino asserted that Washington is in close contact with President Ashraf Ghani and other officials from his government, and Ambassador Khalilzad has visited Kabul multiple times to brief the Afghan leadership. He stressed that US Ambassador Khalilzad has been briefing Ghani and his cabinet on a “near-daily basis”.

In an interview with Fox News on 15th March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it clear that the US is committed to bring an end to the “endless war” in Afghanistan, and Washington has received reports of progress with both, the Taliban and the Kabul government. Pompeo stated, “We don’t have final resolution there but we are working towards political reconciliation.” Pompeo highlighted US President Trump’s objective to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, and added, “He wants to do it in a way that we don’t increase the risk to the United States from terror acts coming from Afghanistan.”

Frustration Continues to Increase in Kabul

On 15th March, Prime Minister Imran Khan talked about the formation of a “good government in Afghanistan” while addressing a rally in Bajaur agency, and these comments garnered the disapproval of Kabul as the Afghan government summoned the Pakistani embassy counsellor to protest. Prime Minister Khan had said, “A good government will be formed in Afghanistan, I mean a government that will representative of all the Afghans. The war will come to an end and there will be peace.

The Afghan National Security Advisor concluded that even though Ambassador Khalilzad has been assigned the responsibility of reconciliation, “he is not reconciling, he is alienating”.

On Saturday, the Afghan foreign ministry issued a statement that it had summoned the Pakistan embassy counsellor to offer an explanation for Prime Minister Khan’s comments. Sibghatullah Ahmadi, spokesperson of the Afghan foreign ministry tweeted, “Afghanistan expressed its grave objection on Pakistan’s government and deemed such remarks a flagrant interference in its internal affairs.”

Frustration continues to mount as the fate of the Ghani-led Kabul remains unpredictable and the Taliban vehemently refuse to engage in any kind of direct talks with a “puppet” government. US Ambassador Khalilzad is under extreme pressure to bring about an intra-Afghan dialogue before the upcoming Afghan election.

Read more: Pashtun laborers killed in Afghanistan: Why is PTM silent?

While speaking to Tolo News, Sadiq Madabir, the former head of the Administrative Office of the President and now a member of President Ghani’s election team, also commented on the lack of input provided to Kabul. He stated, “Whatever it (peace negotiations) is, it is a concern for the Afghan government because the government has not received accurate reports from Qatar’s backdoor talks.”

In an interview with PBS NewsHour, Nader Nadery, senior adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, commented that while Ambassador Khalilzad has been briefing Ghani over the developments Kabul would like to see its “level of input increased”.

Afghanistan expressed its grave objection on Pakistan’s government and deemed such remarks a flagrant interference in its internal affairs.

“We want to see that the different elements, which is the withdrawal of the troops, reduction of the troops, not using Afghanistan or Taliban, cutting their ties with the terrorist groups, the negotiation with the Afghan government and ceasefire. All of these are interlinked, and the Afghan government wants to see, being at the center of the table, backed and helped and facilitated by the United States.” Nadery noted that Ambassador Khalilzad is “walking towards that direction”.

When questioned on Kabul’s frustration with Ambassador Khalilzad by Nick Schifrin, Nader Nadery responded, “The process is designed as such where the government at this stage is not at the center of the table. Ambassador Khalilzad is continually briefing the president. We want to see that, not only briefing but also much more of a contribution and discussion on the substance of the process.” Nadery noted that the USA has the “moral authority and political ability to press the Taliban to preserve the centrality of the Afghan constitution”.

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Nadery expressed faith in the belief that the USA will leave it to the Afghan people to decide what they want. “We, as the Afghan people, we want to keep the rules of the game in political power preserved, and that is through the constitution and through the preservation and strengthening of the democratic process.” In response to a question on Kabul’s fears that US will compromise the safety of the Afghan constitution in bids to make a quick deal, Nadery noted that it was a “major fear” for the Ghani-led government.

“There is a level of anxiety when we see that there is a rush. We do understand and feel the sense of urgency, we have a sense of urgency as the people of Afghanistan. We want this war to end.” Nadery noted that while it is important to end the war, Kabul does not seek a temporary solution. He stated, “We want it (US withdrawal) to be carefully done in a design of an agreement that will result in a proud moment, both for the United States and the Afghan people”.

“We want to see this war end through peace discussion. But the anxiety is on the pace of it and the speed of it that distracts all of us from focusing on the substance and contents of the peace agreement because a speeded process, a rushed process will change the rules of the game, will reset everything and therefore, will be an invitation for civil war”.

Mine Jahangir with additional input by News Desk.


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