US should have pressed Ashraf Ghani harder: Khalilzad

New Delhi: In his first interview since resigning as the US chief negotiator with the Taliban, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad strongly defended the deal he negotiated to withdraw US troops from America’s longest war, CBS reported.

Khalilzad said he objected to the direction of the Biden administration’s current Afghanistan policy.

“One reason I left the government is that the debate wasn’t really as it should be based on realities and facts of what happened, what was going on, and what our alternatives were,” Khalilzad told CBS.

The long-time diplomat refrained from directly criticizing President Joe Biden, whom he considers to be a friend. However, he made clear that the withdrawal that he negotiated, known as the Doha Agreement, was meant to be “conditions-based” rather than driven by a calendar date, the report said.

Khalilzad refuted accusations that he had been misled by the Taliban’s political leaders while their fighters made significant advances on the ground.

“I don’t allow people to mislead me. I do my homework,” he said. “This was not Zal Khalilzad alone doing this. I had the military, the intelligence, everyone with me.”

In the interview, Khalilzad argued that had Ghani not departed Kabul abruptly on August 15, a negotiated transition might have ultimately allowed a more orderly transition and perhaps kept open the possibility for the US to keep some presence in Afghanistan. Ghani fled the presidential palace by helicopter, fleeing to nearby Uzbekistan as Taliban forces entered the capital city.

Khalilzad said he had struck an agreement on August 14, only the night before, with the Taliban and the Afghan government to do a two-week negotiation to create some kind of power-sharing arrangement, but then “President Ghani made the choice that he did, that caused the forces to disintegrate in Kabul.”

“I believe in retrospect, my judgment is that we could have pressed President Ghani harder,” he acknowledged, the report added.

“I’m not saying it was an orderly withdrawal. This was an ugly and final phase. No doubt about it could have been a lot worse,” Khalilzad argued.

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