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Ghani’s escape derailed last-ditch deal with Taliban, US envoy says

Afghanistan updates

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s choice to flee the nation final month scuppered a last-minute deal with the Taliban designed to maintain Kabul out of the Islamists’ palms and negotiate a political transition, the US diplomat in command of talks with the Taliban has stated.

In his first interview because the US exit from Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was appointed by Donald Trump in 2018 to guide talks with the Islamist insurgents, stated he had secured a two-week grace interval hours earlier than the autumn of Kabul.

Under the plan, Ghani was to stay in his publish till a settlement on a future authorities was reached in Qatar, even because the Taliban stood at Kabul’s doorways. But the safety vacuum left by Ghani’s escape on August 15 prompted the Islamists to march into the Afghan capital that day, Khalilzad stated. This in flip precipitated a chaotic evacuation of civilians and troops and successfully ended the talks in Doha.

“Even at the end, we had an agreement with the Talibs for [them] not to enter Kabul,” Khalilzad instructed the Financial Times. He had no inkling “at all” that Ghani was meaning to flee, he stated.

The US envoy’s feedback shed some gentle on the collapse of the Afghan authorities in its closing hours and the dismay throughout the US administration when Kabul fell to the Taliban. They echo secretary of state Antony Blinken who instructed US lawmakers this week he had acquired assurances from Ghani on the eve of his escape that the Afghan president was on board with Washington’s plan.

Kabul safety forces disbanded on the news of Ghani’s disappearance, Khalilzad stated. “There were questions of law and order in Kabul after Ghani fled . . . The Talibs [then] . . . say: ‘Are you going to take responsibility for security of Kabul now? . . . And then you know what happened, we weren’t going to take responsibility,” he stated, including he attended a pre-arranged assembly that day with US regional navy commander General Frank McKenzie and senior Taliban leaders in Doha.

Khalilzad rejected claims of a tacit or express association permitting the Islamists into the presidential palace on August 15. “We didn’t give them any sort of green light or anything of that kind. What we said is what the mission of the US forces was,” he stated, referring to the airport evacuation.

Taliban Fateh fighters, a ‘special forces’ unit, stand guard alongside a avenue in Kabul on August 29 2021, amid suicide bomb threats in the course of the closing part of the US navy’s airlift operation from Kabul © Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

The US envoy to Afghanistan first mentioned the standstill deal with the Kabul authorities on August 12 and reached an accord with the Islamists two days later to safeguard town’s integrity, in accordance with US officers. Ghani, nonetheless, was not prone to be a part of any future authorities as a result of his resignation was a precondition set by the Taliban. By August 13, the Islamists had been encircling Kabul after seizing management of many of the nation.

Ghani couldn’t be reached for remark. In a video posted on Facebook from the United Arab Emirates on Aug 18, Ghani stated he fled as a result of his life was at risk and to “prevent bloodshed” in Kabul because the Taliban descended on the capital. He stated he left with one change of garments and described allegations that he absconded with looted money as “baseless lies”. On Twitter final week he stated his palace safety had suggested him that “to remain risked setting off the same horrific street-to-street fighting the city had suffered during the civil war of the 1990s”.

Khalilzad, a 70-year-old Republican, has come beneath hearth for his dealing with of the Taliban prior to now three years and the deal he brokered in 2020 beneath Trump setting the phrases of the US withdrawal. Critics say this accord squandered Washington’s leverage in negotiations, undercut the elected authorities in Kabul and helped legitimise the Islamist insurgency.

US president Joe Biden criticised the 2020 pact however retained the Afghan-born diplomat as prime US envoy to Afghanistan — a choice that Khalilzad stated stunned him “at one level”. In a mirrored image of Kabul’s resentment on the deal he negotiated and expectations Biden would appoint another person, Ghani at one level refused to fulfill him.

“I was prepared, obviously, to leave,” stated Khalilzad.

A former US ambassador to Afghanistan who has labored on the area for 4 many years, he blamed these earlier than him for the restrictions of his 2020 deal. He advised successive US administrations had step by step diminished their calls for because the Taliban made navy features. His 2018 appointment “was the result of what had not gone right,” he stated.

Abdul Ghani Baradar, proper, chief of the Taliban delegation, indicators an settlement with Zalmay Khalilzad, in Doha, Qatar on February 29 2020 © Ibraheem al Omari/Reuters

“[People] are looking for a scapegoat of some kind,” he added. “I’m sure I could have done better — people would expect me to say that. But when I reflect I did my very best that I could, given the cards I was dealt with in the circumstances, the fundamentals.”

Asked whether or not he thought-about resigning, he stated he all the time had a letter prepared that he saved at dwelling “because here [in state department] somebody might take it”.

In the hour-long interview, Khalilzad additionally denied claims from the CIA’s former regional counter-terrorism chief that he was “dabbling” and had overpromised in an effort to change into Trump’s secretary of state as “total nonsense”.

The accountability for the messy ending of America’s longest conflict lay largely with the Afghans, he stated. “[T]he fact that they didn’t [negotiate peace] or one side disintegrated, that’s not the responsibility of the United States. It’s not my responsibility.”

Khalilzad stated he nonetheless mourned the failure to ship a political settlement with the Taliban years earlier. “There will be a lot of soul searching,” he stated.

Additional reporting by Amy Kazmin in Delhi

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