Latest news
Thumbnail

Interview with Zalmay Khalilzad: Full Transcript in English

In this program, TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada sits down with Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and discusses the former envoy's perspective on the Afghan peace process, the last-minute attempted deal to form a power-sharing government, and the collapse of the former government.

Full Text:

Najafizada: Afghanistan’s peace process brought the Taliban back to power--an absolute and complete power. Now that nearly three months have passed since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, talks about what America should do with the Taliban--and will Afghanistan drag America back into the country--have resumed. The person who was at the center of this unfavorable process and came to the conclusion that his mission was over, stepped down. Today we are discussing with Zalmay Khalilzad the last stages of the peace process and the future of the Taliban government.

Najafizada: Mr. Khalilzad, thanks for your time.  

Khalilzad: It’s my pleasure.  

Najafizada: Now as we look at the result of this process, there is everything except peace. How are you feeling? Are you disappointed? Do you feel ashamed or feel pride? 

Khalilzad: Well, I feel proud because I tried hard to end Afghanistan’s long-term war and bring about a political agreement between the Taliban and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The war was ongoing and the republic--and the US who was supporting it--was losing the war.  

Najafizada: Was the defeat absolute (inevitable)? 

Khalilzad: The war was not going in the right direction, and in the last seven years areas were falling out of the government's and American force's control and going under the control of the Taliban.  

Najafizada: It means that whether there was peace or not, the Taliban would take power?  

Khalilzad: If there was no change in the strategy, if no more forces were sent, what had been happening for the last seven years would continue. That was the analysis--that it would get worse according to the military balance, and it would end in the Taliban's favor. So it would have been better sooner rather than later if efforts had been made for peace, and that’s one of the reasons why this process started--the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, including what was happening in the war, were the reasons for it. Some people think that the situation was good and say that efforts for peace ruined the situation. No, the situation was bad, and the reason why this process started was the disappointment of senior US officials regarding the situation in Afghanistan.

Najafizada: But if Afghanistan were to fall to the Taliban, this process sped up the process.

Khalilzad: Well, it is said that that happened, but the reason was something other than this, there are some other reasons for why it happened like this and this result came about.

Najafizada: We will come to its result later, but has this been a failed process completely?

Khalilzad: It was successful in two or three areas but in one big area it failed.  It was successful in that three US presidents, including Obama, wanted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and American forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan. And in the last 18 months in which America was in Afghanistan not even one of its soldiers had been killed by the Taliban. Second, regarding terrorism, both the US and the Taliban have come to an agreement with each other, and the main reason that America came to Afghanistan was over the issue of terrorism. If the 2011 incident (Osama bin Laden killing) had not happened, the US would not have left. The area where America did not succeed was where a golden opportunity was created for peace based on the agreement that was signed in Doha and the joint statement that was announced on the same day in Kabul. Unfortunately, the two sides that were at war –Taliban and republic leaders as well as other leaders--did not take advantage of the golden chance.

Najafizad: Which was an absolute failure? 

Khalilzad: In my view, the failure is because of the two sides. 

Najafizada: As you had an important and critical role and were involved daily in a major way with the process that has failed, to what extent do you feel responsible? What do you say to yourself when are you are alone, really? 

Khalilzad: I always ask myself questions. At the time, too, I was wondering if I could do it differently, or if it could be done differently. When I am alone and I reflect on it, believe me, there is nothing that I could have done but did not do: Discussions with the Taliban to convince them, with the government and other elders of Afghanistan and with the neighboring countries to convince them, the creation of an international consensus, proposing (my) own proposal when they were unable to agree on a plan, and arranging different meetings. I was not a magician but as a person helping the process I did my part.

Najafizada: You made decisions.   

Khalilzad: In that area, the decisions were not ours. 

Najafizada: It was the US's decision.   

Khalilzad: No, the decision was not for the US either.   

Najafizada: In the area where the US talked with the Taliban?   

Khalilzad: About the deal, yes, no doubt about it. That deal opened the door for peace.   

Najafizada: You told the people of Afghanistan repeatedly that nothing will be agreed upon unless everything is agreed upon.   

Khalilzad: Yes, it is correct.  

Najafizada: The people believed you. What do you say to the people now?   

Khalilzad: I tell them that it was US senior officials much higher than me, at the president's level.   

Najafizada: But it was your words and the people heard your words.   

Khalilzad: I am explaining it and hope it convinces them, maybe it cannot convince them. Whatever the people of Afghanistan say, or if they have any complaints against me, I accept it. Not from the leaders, but the ordinary people. People have a right to have demands (questions) of me. But it should be explained to the people correctly. They should know the truth.   

Najafizada: Do the people of Afghanistan have the right to ask you to apologize, or not?   

Khalilzad: I say to the people of Afghanistan that I am not happy with the situation. I feel very bad about the situation that Afghanistan is in, but there are two reasons for this situation. First, for me, the leaders of Afghanistan, including the Taliban and non-Taliban, bear the most responsibility regarding this situation because they did not accept a middle way.  

Najafizada: We will talk about its details.   

Khalilzad: And, second, lack of progress in bringing peace disappointed the leaders of the United States. The agreement (articles) were related to each other and the US withdrawal was a condition for the implementation of the agreement's articles by the Taliban. The US leaders arrived at the decision that if we go forward based on the terms written in the agreement, we will be stuck forever in Afghanistan, and our final goal, which is withdrawal, will be at risk.    

Najafizada: Right, let me come to the details of the process.  

Khalilzad: Sure. 

Najafizada: Let’s start from the point when Trump asked you to accept this job and you said that from the beginning Trump wanted to withdraw troops.  

Khalilzad: Yes, he did.   

Najafizada: Then it was a negotiation about the withdrawal from Afghanistan from the beginning.  

Khalilzad: No, it was pretty clear that it was a withdrawal negotiation but it wasn’t only withdrawal. Trump and later Biden agreed to withdraw forces because the Afghanistan war was not going in the right direction, and, on the other hand, it was so expensive for America--it cost 40 billion dollars a year--and third, the world has changed. And today’s world or the 2018 world is not the same as the one in 2001 or 2002. China has become stronger, it’s not worth spending this much in Afghanistan. We should decrease the expense of Afghanistan with the withdrawal--the decrease of the number of soldiers. And second, regarding terrorism, which is the number one concern of America in Afghanistan, we should gain something. And we gave a chance to Afghans--whose war did not have a military solution-- to end the fighting in a political way.  

Najafizada: They (the US) will try--if it helps or not--but America will leave Afghanistan.  

Khalilzad: At the end it happened this way. And its result is that Biden and Trump made up their minds that Afghans are not serious about peace: some of them preferred the situation to continue as it was rather than having peace, and each of them wanted a peace that wasn’t practical.  

Najafizada: Then we come to the conclusion that the basis of this process was the withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan.  

Khalilzad: It was one of the reasons, and its other principles were on terrorism and also giving a chance to Afghans to sit at the negotiation table alongside each other--and we acquired this.  

Najafizada: Why didn't America sit in at the negotiation table with the former government and withdraw its troops from Afghanistan?  

Khalilzad: It wasn't necessary to negotiate with anyone to withdraw its soldiers.  

Najafizada: It was a security agreement.  

Khalilzad: The security agreement didn’t require that we should have soldiers in Afghanistan.  

Najafizada: Then why should the withdrawal of America have happened through Doha, Islamabad and so on?  

Khalilzad: It is a very important question. The US did not need anyone’s permission to withdraw from Afghanistan because it didn’t get permission when it came to Afghanistan. The Taliban was in power, did it allow the US to come? There was no need for anyone’s permission.  

Najafizada: It was Khana Khala.  

Khalilzad: No, because it had been attacked from there, and they warned them, but they didn’t accept the warning and that was the reaction. And the world also stood by them. But withdrawing was not the only goal, if it was the only goal the Americans could do what you said. It wanted to receive assurances about terrorism and give the Afghans a chance for peace and negotiation.  

Najafizada: Both topics are important and we will discuss in detail. When Biden became the president, he asked you to continue your job and in less than three months he declared that we (the US) want to leave Afghanistan without any conditions. Why?  

Khalilzad: well, it's one of the important changes.  

Najafizada: Were you aware? When they declared it, were you aware?  

Khalilzad: Yes, I was in touch and we would have preferred to act based on principles in the agreement.  

Najafizada: Did you tell him?  

Khalilzad: Yes.  

Najafizada: He didn’t listen to you.  

Khalilzad: He not only didn’t listen to me, but he also didn’t listen to some senior advisors either, because what he had experienced with previous negotiations--his fear and concern were that if we make it conditional with an intra-Afghan agreement, they may never reach an agreement.  

Najafizada: Did you agree with this part of it?  

Khalilzad: There was that possibility.  

Najafizada: How much did you insist that the withdrawal should be based on conditions?  

Khalilzad: It had been discussed many times that the agreement is conditions-based, but it was the decision of the president to withdraw troops from Afghanistan based on the schedule.  

Najafizada: Did your colleagues like Blinken and others agree with you?  

Khalilzad: I don’t want to name everyone’s names, but there were high-ranking officials and a number of America’s allied countries who agreed with this thinking.  
Najafizada: Did you become disappointed? How did you feel after that declaration? Some people say that the peace process died after that announcement.  

Khalilzad: No, some of the people in Afghanistan did not think that America would leave Afghanistan, because according to the geostrategy, Afghanistan is the most important country--China is close to us, Russia is close, Pakistan and Iran. How is it possible that a country would leave such a country, with such a location? However, I told the leaders in Kabul many times: Do not misunderstand, America seriously will leave Afghanistan.  

Najafizada: It proved it.  

Nafafizada: What was the effect of Biden’s declaration on the Taliban?  

Khalilzad: I think the effect was that they calculated the situation better than the government knowing that America was leaving and was serious about it. And those in the government were thinking that Biden does not care about the Doha agreement --or they dismissed me as they made it sometimes personal----and they thought the troops would remain, I think they (the government) woke up. My hope at that time was that it was possible that they come to an agreement and we could continue our efforts for an agreement. And we convinced the Taliban to not attack America for four more months because Americans stayed in Afghanistan four months past scheduled deadline.  

Najafizada: Did the Taliban stay committed to the peace process after the 14th of April? In your point of view?  

Khalilzad: They did, but their view changed regarding the result of the negotiation. Because the situation was changing rapidly. The Taliban at the beginning was talking about a power-sharing government. And even I made a suggestion to them because they were not making progress. But Kabul soon released it-- and I think it was published in the pages of TOLO-- they were not serious and released the agreement (proposal) that had been secretly given to the Taliban and the government, meaning they wanted to sabotage the proposal. After the change in the situation  and up until the 15th of August, the Taliban was saying that although they had progressed militarily, they wanted an inclusive government.  At the end they were saying that the first person (president) should be from the Taliban.  

Najafizada: We will come to the details later because it is so important.  

Najafizada: If we go back to the declaration of Biden, the Taliban started attacks on Afghan districts and up to early August they did take control of 200 districts. What were you doing in those days and nights? 

Khalilzad: We were surprised that after 20 years of investment in Afghanistan’s army--and with the bluffing we heard from Kabul that 'we are going to defeat the Taliban within 6 months' and statements like 'we will fight in the Afghan style because America was not letting us to fight in the way required.' 

Najafizada: How were you evaluating the Taliban’s action? Wasn’t it a violation of the agreement you made? Attacks on the cities and districts?  

Khalilzad: There is no doubt there were violations from the Taliban too.  

Najafizada: What did you do, did you put pressure on them?  

Khalilzad: We reacted, we attacked them. They had captured some areas of Kandahar like Arghandab. America was very serious, they were saying that America is stepping out of the agreement because we launched many attacks on them. They were pushed back. One thing that the Doha agreement accomplished, which has not been paid attention to, was that the Taliban agreed that they will not attack Americans, and agreed that we (the US) can come to the support of the Afghan forces.
And they were saying that where the war happens we should come to the support of the Afghan forces, but we even went further.  

Najafizada: In Doha, how much pressure did you put on the Taliban when the attacks were increased?  

Khalilzad: We put a lot of pressure on them. The Taliban made suggestions involving ending the attacks on (the Afghan army).  

Najafizada: What were (the suggestions) besides the surrender and release of prisoners? 

Khalilzad: It was that they will not attack the centers of the districts and highways and that further trust-building should occur. And besides that, a number of prisoners from both sides should be released. At that time the government was saying that nothing is acceptable for us except a permanent ceasefire.  

Najafizada: We will come to the government.  

Khalilzad: Even soldiers and senior military officials were, unfortunately, saying that decreasing the level of war and not attacking the district centers and cities (by the Taliban) and (instead) war in villages will favor the Taliban and be harmful for the government. Believe me, the government failed to make good calculations. 

Najafizada: If we talk about the Taliban side, later we will come to the government’s issues. 

Khalilzad: OK  

Najafizada: How serious was the Doha office, as now we look at the fate of people such as Mr. Baradar--when you were putting pressure on them, how much influence did they have on their fighters in Afghanistan? 

Khalilzad: We tested how much influence he had on his fighters.  

Najafizada: It means that you were talking to the right people in Doha? 

Khalilzad: I don’t have any doubts in this regard.  

Najafizada: You released Mullah Baradar from the prison and brought him.  

Khalilzad: Before we signed the agreement we wanted to make sure that 80% of the war would stop for seven days so we should know that 'you are the representative of the Taliban.'  

Najafizada: But where is he today?  

Khalilzad: Well, we will come to today’s issue. If you want to go back to the end of the issue.  

Najafizada: It is an issue of whether Mr. Baradar was an influential person? And was he a person with authority?  

Khalilzad: There is no doubt about it. The agreement that he consented to was signed by the United Nations, and passed by the Security Council to show that all the forces are under his influence. And we said that for seven days the war should decrease by 80%  and he proved it. And what happened later and what is going on now-- it has its own reasons and we may talk about it.  

Najafizada: Right, Mr. Ambassador, apparently it seems that the Taliban think that the entire collapse of Afghanistan was a military achievement rather than a diplomatic achievement.  

Khalilzad: Why did this happen?  

Najafizada: Some people say that the Taliban were not committed to the peace process. Were they?  

Khalilzad: I will tell you why they took over Kabul.  

Najafizada: We will come to the issue of Kabul. The day of the collapse is the most important part of our interview. Were the Taliban committed to the peace process?  

Khalilzad: One side cannot make peace--both sides which are at war should make peace, these talks are related to each other, you say that the reason that it didn’t happen is the guilt of one side.  

Najafizada: No, I didn't say that.  

Khalilzad: That can be concluded from what you say. 

Najafizada: Afghanistan’s government did not want peace, right? We put this aside. Did the Taliban want to make peace?  

Khalilzad: Each of them wanted peace based on their conditions; peace does not come from the air, peace means what you give and what I receive. What is acceptable for both sides to agree on in order to end the war. They could not reach that, both sides could not reach a decision on what to give and what to receive. Now we can talk about what they wanted. 

Najafizada: On the day of the collapse, you were in Doha?  

Khalilzad: Yes, a few days before that I was also in Doha.  

Najafizada: What kind of agreement had been agreed on?  

Khalilzad: Well.  

Najafizada: If you could go into details a little bit.  

Khalilzad: The agreement was that the Taliban do not go into Kabul, they do not enter Kabul, and some of its forces which were in Kabul will exit Kabul.  

Najafizada: With whom did you make this agreement?  

Khalilzad: With Mullah Baradar and his team, and at the same time an authorized delegation was set to come from Kabul. Mr. Karzai, Dr. Abdullah and some others who were with them and the president’s team, and in two weeks they were to agree on an inclusive government. And even the number of ministers from both sides were put forward. 

Najafizada: What were the details?  

Khalilzad: I don’t want to share with you who was supposed to take which ministry.  

Najafizada: But there was power-sharing?  

Khalilzad:  Yes, power-sharing was discussed. 

Najafizada: Was it 50-50?  

Khalilzad: I think the power-sharing was less than 50% for the government in that situation because Kabul was surrounded by the Taliban, but more than 10 ministers of the republic were discussed for inclusion in the government.  

Najafizada: Did they talk regarding the names?  

Khalilzad: We said that this is not our decision, it was a suggestion that came from one side and we transferred it to the other side.  

Najafizada: Who suggested that?  

Khalilzad: From the side of the Taliban it was agreed that some of the members of the republic's government would be in the inclusive government.  

Najafizada: Were they in the government or out of the government?  

Khalilzad: I don’t want to talk more about these issues at this time.  

Najafizada: Because the intention of the Taliban is important regarding peace.  

Khalilzad: Trust me – with the situation in Kabul at that time, they were ready to accept some well-known people in their government who were involved in the war. And at the same time it was agreed that when this authorized delegation comes and achieves a result, that result will be final. And Ashraf Ghani agreed with that.  

Najafizada: What would have been the structure of the government, would it be an emirate, republic, or state?  

Khalilzad: It would have been an interim and inclusive government for a particular period of time. Of course, the Afghans would discuss these issues--a council or a Loya Jirga (great assembly) comprised of approximately 200 people would have been formed and they would conduct the transition of power.  And President Ashraf Ghani agreed to it.   

Najafizada: Did you call him to transfer the message? 

Khalilzad: My team was in contact with Ghani’s team. And I was close to them (my team) and I was hearing (they were discussing it). 

Najafizada: With whom?   

Khalilzad: Those who were present with him inside the room. You can talk to Abdul Salam Rahimi (Ghani’s special envoy for peace affairs) and Abdul Matin Big (member of the peace negotiation team) about this.    

Najafizada: Did Ghani confirm it?   

Khalilzad: He confirmed and even reportedly recorded a video to announce the issue to the nation. If the video exists, the names (of the people) I have mentioned can give details to you. Mr. Matin Big I guess write on Twitter on that day. And also the Taliban tweeted the issue. In the last days, this was also a possiblity but it wasn’t properly used.   

Najafizada: What was President Ghani’s request on that day? To exit Afghanistan or to stay in Afghanistan?  

Khalilzad:  It was mentioned. One night before, the US Secretary of State Mr. Blinken talked to him, and he (Ghani) told him that he will stay in Afghanistan and he has no plans to leave.   

Najafizada: You didn’t talk to Mr. Ghani on the day of Kabul’s collapse?   

Khalilzad:  No, I didn’t on that day.   

Najafizada: He wasn’t talking to you. Or you didn’t want (to talk)?   

Khalilzad:  No, my team was in talks with his team and the US secretary had talked to him the night before.  

Najafizada: Did the Americans know anything about the fleeing of the president?   

Khalilzad:  I didn’t know anything. I don’t think anyone in the US government knew that he planned to quit the country.  

Najafizada: If he didn’t leave, what would the situation be in Afghanistan?   

Khalilzad:  Well, one possible way that was also agreed, was that this team (Taliban) would come forward and reach an agreement on the government, and an oath-taking ceremony and transition of power would be performed. It would have been much better for Afghanistan.   

Najafizada: Did the Taliban confirm who would lead the government?   

Khalilzad:  I think when the situation reached that point they (Taliban) would insist that the head of the (government) should be one of their leaders.   

Najafizada: You have mentioned that. Who would that have been? Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada (supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate) or Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (first deputy prime minister)?   

Khalilzad: We didn’t talk about these issues. We left this issue for the two sides’ teams to negotiate and to reach a breakthrough. It was an agreement among the Afghans. It could not have been an agreement between the US and the Taliban.  

Najafizada: But apparently, every peace path was going through your office?   

Khalilzad:  No, if it was going through (our office) and if we had control of it, trust me, the situation would not be like this.  

Najafizada: You were the one who gave this message to Ghani and his team, not the Taliban?   

Khalilzad:  Trust me, let me add something in this regard and it may even complicate the issue: In fact, the ARG (presidential palace) team was in contact with us and at the same time had direct contact with the Taliban.   

Najafizada: The Taliban in Doha or the Taliban on the battlefield?   

Khalilzad: I will say the Taliban. I currently don’t want to give more details concerning whom the (presidential palace) was in contact with--with which Taliban they were in direct contact. 

Najafizada: Was it for peace?   

Khalilzad: To provide assurances about understanding (trust-building).    

Najafizada: It means, they didn’t believe your word?   

Khalilzad:  I don’t know.  These issues are very complicated. You know, in Afghanistan, the channels are open to various elements. I can say that they had their own channels.   

Najafizada: With Haqqani?   

Khalilzad: They had them--I can say 'with the Taliban.'   

Najafizada: Do you know Sheikh Tahnoun (bin Mohammed Al Nahyan)?   

Khalilzad: Yes, He is the Ruler's Representative of the Eastern Region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.    

Najafizada: Mr. Ghani has traveled to the Emirate (UAE) several times. He also made some contracts such as Kabul Airport’s management affairs to a company that belongs to Sheikh Tahnoun. He also sent an airplane to the president in Uzbekistan. What was his role in a process that was mainly played by Qatar? What did the UAE demand with the evacuation of President Ghani?   

Khalilzad: I have no information to give on this. What you have mentioned, we are also aware of. The UAE wanted to play its role in peace in Afghanistan. A meeting, in which I also participated, was held there. But I can’t say anything about the relations between the UAE and Dr. Ashraf Ghani or Ghani’s security adviser.   

Najafizada: Don’t you think the UAE was not happy with the peace process that was managed by Qatar?  

Khalilzad: We have attempted to inform all the rivals in the region and to form a regional and international consensus and we always informed the UAE. When they tried to have a role by hosting a conference between the government and Taliban, we welcomed it and showed up for it. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen.   

Najafizada:  The Taliban didn’t accept?   

Khalilzad: The Taliban didn’t accept, even a team that came from Kabul to Abu Dhabi didn’t attend the meeting.   

Najafizada: You criticize Ghani’s management, in this interview and before. But you have a longtime relationship with Mr. Ghani. You have supported Mr. Ghani in the election.   

Khalilzad: I didn’t officially support him (Ghani).   

Najafizada: Was it personal support?   

Khalilzad: Well, it is a fact that Mr. Ghani asked for my opinions on his plans. And if Dr. Abdullah asked me about my opinion-- because he is also my friend I knew him before Bonn in the 1990s. 

Najafizada: But your choice was to support Ghani in 2014?   

Khalilzad: I didn’t support him (Ghani), but when they ask for help--although they asked for more help, I just gave my opinions regarding the papers he had sent to me.   

Najafizada: Did you change your stance in 2019?  

Khalilzad: I wanted the elections to not be held in 2019. The focus should be on peace. The election and its chaos wasted time. We tried to prevent the two oath-taking ceremonies and the announcement of two presidents.   

Najafizada: It was announced, and you supported Ghani?   

Khalilzad: There have been a lot of questions on why I attended (Ghani’s oathtaking ceremony). First, ask the teams of Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani about how hard I had tried to (prevent this chaos).   

Najafizada: You threatened Dr. Abdullah that the US military would intervene?   

Khalilzad: No, let me tell you that I tried hard to prevent the creation of two presidents.   

Najafizada: But your stance was clear that Ghani should lead and Dr. Abdullah should join him?   

Khalilzad: No, I will explain it. I sought for the two to join each other and to reach an agreement. On the same day when the two sides made the oath-taking ceremonies. At 3:00 am Dr. Abdullah agreed to go with me to Ghani to reach an agreement. But no agreement was made.  

Najafizada: Who was to blame, Ghani or Abdullah?   

Khalilzad: To tell you the truth, Dr. Abdullah had some flexibility but Dr. Ghani rejected (power-sharing).  

Najafizada: But you still (participated in Ghani’s oath-taking ceremony) on the next day?   

Khalilzad: After this attempt was rejected. Despite this, pressure was put on Dr. Ghani that aid would be affected.  

Najafizada: But you didn’t threaten with the military?  

Khalilzad: We didn’t threaten that. The commander of our forces, and Afghan military top officials, came to me at the residence of the ambassador at the embassy where I lived. They told me if two presidents are announced, there is a risk that the Afghan forces will divide into two sides and they will fight each other despite the ongoing war with the Taliban. 

Najafizada: Exactly. then you have chosen?   

Khalilzad: After consultation with the advisers, we decided to support someone who will be commander-in-chief.   

Najafizada: But the commander-in-chief left all the forces and Kabul collapsed? 

Khalilzad: This was a new scenario that we witnessed.     

Najafizada: Don’t you think the Afghans paid a high price for this decision?   

Khalilzad: The reason was that hopes faded between the first election with ex-president Hamid Karzai and Younus Qanoni, in which millions of people attended, to other elections. It was part of a series, each worse than the previous one. 

Najafizada: This is due to the lack of an established proper system in Afghanistan.   

Khalilzad: Well, that is up for discussion. What it should be, how it should be, and how it all happened. 

Najafizada: Meaning the political system in Afghanistan?

Khalilzad: One thing I want to mention is that it is better to take some responsibility instead of blaming the US, saying that Khalilzad has done it on behalf of the US.   

Najafizada: You do the same thing. You blame Mr. Ghani.   

Khalilzad: No, I mention my own faults too. But the main responsibility regarding the peace, the announcement of the two presidents at the same time--which forced the US to cut billions of aid--they (Afghan leaders) didn't care about it. What type of leadership is that?    

Najafizada: Your decisions were clear. You threatened one side. 

Khalilzad: No, we threatened the other side (Ghani) as well that if a proper position--one that would be acceptable to him--was not given to Dr. Abdullah, he would not be accepted. But if we accepted both of them as president, a war would be triggered.   

Najafizada: We don’t know what would have happened exactly.   

Khalilzad: But there was a chance. Sometimes there are scenarios with a small chance of happening, but the risks are so dangerous they should not be allowed.

Najafizada: You talked about the 2004 and 2009 elections.  

Khalilzad: In my opinion, the 2004 election was the best election of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. 

Najafizada: Yes, there was a lot of hope for it.   

Najafizada: Do you think after Bonn... Was a good establishment ensured in Afghanistan after the Bonn Conference?   

Khalilzad: When I look back, there could have been some things done differently. But if it is said that the US implemented the national constitution by force, it is wrong.   

Najafizada: Did you support a central-state government? 

Khalilzad: We didn’t have any opinion in that regard. I was the US ambassador to Iraq. You know that. I have assisted in forming the Iraq constitution as I did in Afghanistan. They have accepted the federal system. In Afghanistan, someone raised the issue of the federal system. President Karzai invited me to the presidential palace and asked me to criticize the federal system (on behalf of the US) because the federal system means the division of Afghanistan. I told him that I am the ambassador for a federal country, how can I criticize the federal system? But only Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum raised the issue of the federal system, and the rest of the leaders opposed it. They complained about the weakness of the government.   

Najafizada: I ask you as an analyst, not as part of your official responsibilities: Now that 20 years have passed, if a non-central system was established in Afghanistan do you think the situation would be different today? 

Khalilzad: There are a lot of conditional possibilities.   

Najafizada: No, only this issue.  

Khalilzad: If this issue was mentioned there would be a fight in the Loya Jirga (Great Assembly) because the diversity of opinion is high. They (Afghan leaders) granted the power to the president based on (ex-Afghan king) Mohammad Zahir Shah’s constitution.   

Najafizada: Let's get back to Afghanistan after August, which is important and is the future. Did you resign because your remarks were not being heard anymore in Biden’s administration?   

Khalilzad: There were two reasons. First, I saw the change and how that change happened, that my role was not achievable, the embassy was closed and I am not a permanent official of the government, I am in a mobile situation, traveling based on the incumbent president’s demand and situation. Second, I thought the political situation in the US was such that it wouldn’t allow an open hand to pursue what is in the interest of the US. So, I thought 'I can leave the government.'   

Najafizada: What is the US interest in Afghanistan?  

Khalilzad: I think the US interest is in the stability of Afghanistan. That it doesn’t become divided. That the people of Afghanistan do not face economic collapse or another big war. Or that other terrorists do not emerge and the terrorists don’t have more space. To achieve this, it is necessary to take steps to complete the Doha process, which has not been completed. The Taliban have demands of the world and the US. The US has demands based on the Doha agreement and based on concerns regarding Afghanistan, such as human rights, political inclusivity and countering terrorism. There are demands on both sides. It needs to be resolved in an agreement. Otherwise, there is a risk that Afghanistan's problems will greatly worsen as will the people's situation.  

Najafizada: Do you think the US should recognize the Taliban? Yes or no?   

Khalilzad: It depends on the situation.   

Najafizada: Today’s situation.  

Khalilzad: No, not in today’s situation.   

Najafizada: Should the US have an embassy in Kabul now?   

Khalilzad: I prefer the US to have a political presence in Afghanistan. It is mainly the security issue because the US cannot put necessary influence on the situation in Afghanistan and be in contact with Afghan leaders both inside the government and outside the government. I know why there is no contact but I am hoping the situation comes to a point that would create conditions for a US political presence.   

Najafizada: What is the status of relations between the Taliban and the US? Is there any discussion?   

Khalilzad: There are some talks in Doha. But the talks should be about a structure or a roadmap. Not only the US but its allies as well should bring their demands, and the demands from the world should all be presented.  

Najafizada: Do the Taliban want to negotiate?   

Khalilzad: Yes, there should be negotiations. The Taliban say they want to negotiate.  

Najafizada: Does Sirajuddin Haqqani want to negotiate?   

Khalilzad: I have no doubt that he wants to negotiate but there are certain problems. But the Taliban wants the embassy to be reopened and wants negotiation.   

Najafizada: Do they support girls’ access to schools? 

Khalilzad: This is a vital need for Afghanistan, and the world should stand with Afghans so Afghan girls and women can have access not only to education and work but to women's rights generally.

Najafizada: What do you say to millions of Afghan girls who have been sent home and are watching your interview? 

Khalilzad: I  tell them to fight, struggle and make an effort to earn their rights.   

Najafizada: Should they protest to overthrow the Taliban regime?   

Khalilzad: Overthrowing the (current government) is a separate issue. The Taliban should ensure an inclusive, responsible government that can provide a safe environment. If they want to be part of the world, they should implement some international laws and should accept some conditions. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And I think some Taliban may not have problems with this issue. It is a positive step that girl and boy students are going to private universities. And this is positive that the high schools are open for girls in some provinces.   

Najafizada: What is the position of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, with whom you have negotiated for a year? 

Khalilzad: He is a top Taliban official. He is a patriot.   

Najafizada: In the Taliban government?   

Khalilzad: He is one of the deputy prime ministers for the transition government.   

Najafizada: Do you think he should have the top position--has he been sidelined?   

Khalilzad: I don’t want to talk about it. But I think he is someone who has compassion for Afghanistan.   

Najafizada: We don’t talk about his personality but his position?   

Khalilzad: I don’t want to talk about the position of the Taliban, in the media.

Najafizada: You can talk about some realities. You know that the Haqqani network has a strong position in the Taliban government?   

Khalilzad: It is undoubtedly true.   

Najafizada: Have you ever talked to them?   

Khalilzad: We have talked with some of the Haqqanis. Yes, in Doha two Haqqani members were part of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s team.   

Najafizada: Do you think that Mullah Ghani Baradar has the same influence in the Taliban government as you expected? Do you see any controversy among the Taliban or not?   

Khalilzad: Of course, there is a diversity of thought. I don’t have any doubt about this. Some of them support efforts that are in the interest of Afghanistan and the government.   

Najafizada: For example?   

Khalilzad: There is certainly a diversity of thought on the formation of the government. Who will be in the government? An inclusive government could be formed with the appointment of qualified people in some technical ministries, instead of everything being controlled by the Taliban.   

Najafizada: But some of them don’t want it?

Khalilzad: But some of them say that the Taliban gave sacrifices and we should address their problems first. And there are pressures on leaders from those who fought for them. These issues are in other governments as well. But the diversity of thought surely exists in this regard.   

Najafizada: Do you think the Taliban's current government will last for years?   

Khalilzad: The sooner these issues are resolved the better it will be for Afghanistan because Afghanistan needs the support of the world as its economic situation has deteriorated.   

Najafizada: Apparently, the Taliban doesn't show much interest in these issues.  

Khalilzad: I think some of them are interested, but they haven’t reached the path to resolve these problems, but the gates are opened for negotiations.   

Najafizada: The Taliban announcement of its current government, which is comprised of a single group, a single ethnicity, single mindset--will this survive for years?   

Khalilzad:   I think it will be difficult if an inclusive government is not formed.  

Najafizada: What will happen? A war will happen?  

Khalilzad: There will be some problems. Daesh is a big problem. The main enemy of Daesh is the Taliban. All the problems will not be resolved in one or two days, but there should be some progress in normalizing relations between Afghanistan (political leaders) and the Taliban. But there may be some who might not pay attention to this and may believe that Allah will resolve everything. But it is the responsibility of the Afghan leaders to reach an agreement to resolve problems.  

Najafizada: As you said, Afghanistan has not reached the last chapter of the book.   

Khalilzad: No, Afghanistan is a country with 5,000 years of history. A new chapter is opened.   

Najafizada: Do you think a civil war is possible in the upcoming years or you don’t know?   

Khalilzad: It depends on the decisions. If the proper decisions are made--there are none, but if the proper decisions are not taken, there are. Everyone inside and outside should try to lead Afghanistan toward a positive path--not to war--and the people of Afghanistan can live in peace and become economically developed. But this depends on the decision taken by Afghan leaders, both the Taliban and other political Afghan leaders.   

Najafizada: You have mentioned Daesh and called it the main enemy of the Taliban. It seems Daesh has recently (restarted by) targeting the Shias in Afghanistan. It is not new but it has escalated recently. The attacks in Kandahar, Kunduz, Kabul and other attacks. There are no relations between the Daesh and the Taliban?   

Khalilzad: As long as I know, one of the toughest enemies of Daesh is the Taliban. I was telling this to the former government--that they can reach some progress on this as it is a mutual enemy. The government was saying that Daesh was a branch of the Taliban. And the Taliban was saying that Daesh was active under the intelligence agency of the (former) government. But in fact, it was an enemy of both, the republic and the Taliban.   

Najafizada: Are there no relations between the Taliban and al-Qaeda?   

Khalilzad: The Taliban’s background shows that there were relations between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Based on the Doha agreement, they said that they will not allow any group to use Afghanistan to attack the US and its allies. The Taliban have fulfilled a massive part of this commitment.   

Najafizada: The Taliban in Afghanistan now, including the Haqqani network, has no relations with any of the terrorist groups in the world?   

Khalilzad: I didn’t say anything regarding the relations. The US is not in Afghanistan now and the situation is different from before--the US was monitoring those individuals and groups who were trying to get out of Afghanistan to a place where the US didn’t have a military presence. But now the situation has changed, a new agreement should be made based on Afghanistan and the current conditions of the US.  

Najafizada: Mr. Khalilzad! How do you want to be judged by history?   

Khalilzad: The efforts that I made were not for history nor for my personal interest. I have made my efforts and I am satisfied. I am not satisfied with the situation, however, because we haven’t reached the conclusion that we wanted, but it is not done yet. The efforts to ensure peace in Afghanistan should continue. Whether I am in the government or not, I will prolong my efforts for this great goal.   

Najafizada: Will you go to Afghanistan?   

Khalilzad: Sure, why not?   

Najafizada: Afghanistan under the Taliban rule?   

Khalilzad: That is a separate issue. But there is no doubt that I will go to Afghanistan. As I mentioned before, Afghanistan is a country with history, civilizations and a people. These changes come and go.   

Najafizada: Do you mean the Taliban?   

Khalilzad: The wheel is turning, but Afghanistan will remain.   

Najafizada: Mr. Khalilzad, the former US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation. Thanks for giving us an opportunity to talk to you.   

Khalilzad: Thank you as well.   

Interview with Zalmay Khalilzad: Full Transcript in English

Khalilzad said the former government of Afghanistan, backed by the United States, was losing more territory to the Taliban every year.

Thumbnail

In this program, TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada sits down with Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and discusses the former envoy's perspective on the Afghan peace process, the last-minute attempted deal to form a power-sharing government, and the collapse of the former government.

Full Text:

Najafizada: Afghanistan’s peace process brought the Taliban back to power--an absolute and complete power. Now that nearly three months have passed since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, talks about what America should do with the Taliban--and will Afghanistan drag America back into the country--have resumed. The person who was at the center of this unfavorable process and came to the conclusion that his mission was over, stepped down. Today we are discussing with Zalmay Khalilzad the last stages of the peace process and the future of the Taliban government.

Najafizada: Mr. Khalilzad, thanks for your time.  

Khalilzad: It’s my pleasure.  

Najafizada: Now as we look at the result of this process, there is everything except peace. How are you feeling? Are you disappointed? Do you feel ashamed or feel pride? 

Khalilzad: Well, I feel proud because I tried hard to end Afghanistan’s long-term war and bring about a political agreement between the Taliban and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The war was ongoing and the republic--and the US who was supporting it--was losing the war.  

Najafizada: Was the defeat absolute (inevitable)? 

Khalilzad: The war was not going in the right direction, and in the last seven years areas were falling out of the government's and American force's control and going under the control of the Taliban.  

Najafizada: It means that whether there was peace or not, the Taliban would take power?  

Khalilzad: If there was no change in the strategy, if no more forces were sent, what had been happening for the last seven years would continue. That was the analysis--that it would get worse according to the military balance, and it would end in the Taliban's favor. So it would have been better sooner rather than later if efforts had been made for peace, and that’s one of the reasons why this process started--the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, including what was happening in the war, were the reasons for it. Some people think that the situation was good and say that efforts for peace ruined the situation. No, the situation was bad, and the reason why this process started was the disappointment of senior US officials regarding the situation in Afghanistan.

Najafizada: But if Afghanistan were to fall to the Taliban, this process sped up the process.

Khalilzad: Well, it is said that that happened, but the reason was something other than this, there are some other reasons for why it happened like this and this result came about.

Najafizada: We will come to its result later, but has this been a failed process completely?

Khalilzad: It was successful in two or three areas but in one big area it failed.  It was successful in that three US presidents, including Obama, wanted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and American forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan. And in the last 18 months in which America was in Afghanistan not even one of its soldiers had been killed by the Taliban. Second, regarding terrorism, both the US and the Taliban have come to an agreement with each other, and the main reason that America came to Afghanistan was over the issue of terrorism. If the 2011 incident (Osama bin Laden killing) had not happened, the US would not have left. The area where America did not succeed was where a golden opportunity was created for peace based on the agreement that was signed in Doha and the joint statement that was announced on the same day in Kabul. Unfortunately, the two sides that were at war –Taliban and republic leaders as well as other leaders--did not take advantage of the golden chance.

Najafizad: Which was an absolute failure? 

Khalilzad: In my view, the failure is because of the two sides. 

Najafizada: As you had an important and critical role and were involved daily in a major way with the process that has failed, to what extent do you feel responsible? What do you say to yourself when are you are alone, really? 

Khalilzad: I always ask myself questions. At the time, too, I was wondering if I could do it differently, or if it could be done differently. When I am alone and I reflect on it, believe me, there is nothing that I could have done but did not do: Discussions with the Taliban to convince them, with the government and other elders of Afghanistan and with the neighboring countries to convince them, the creation of an international consensus, proposing (my) own proposal when they were unable to agree on a plan, and arranging different meetings. I was not a magician but as a person helping the process I did my part.

Najafizada: You made decisions.   

Khalilzad: In that area, the decisions were not ours. 

Najafizada: It was the US's decision.   

Khalilzad: No, the decision was not for the US either.   

Najafizada: In the area where the US talked with the Taliban?   

Khalilzad: About the deal, yes, no doubt about it. That deal opened the door for peace.   

Najafizada: You told the people of Afghanistan repeatedly that nothing will be agreed upon unless everything is agreed upon.   

Khalilzad: Yes, it is correct.  

Najafizada: The people believed you. What do you say to the people now?   

Khalilzad: I tell them that it was US senior officials much higher than me, at the president's level.   

Najafizada: But it was your words and the people heard your words.   

Khalilzad: I am explaining it and hope it convinces them, maybe it cannot convince them. Whatever the people of Afghanistan say, or if they have any complaints against me, I accept it. Not from the leaders, but the ordinary people. People have a right to have demands (questions) of me. But it should be explained to the people correctly. They should know the truth.   

Najafizada: Do the people of Afghanistan have the right to ask you to apologize, or not?   

Khalilzad: I say to the people of Afghanistan that I am not happy with the situation. I feel very bad about the situation that Afghanistan is in, but there are two reasons for this situation. First, for me, the leaders of Afghanistan, including the Taliban and non-Taliban, bear the most responsibility regarding this situation because they did not accept a middle way.  

Najafizada: We will talk about its details.   

Khalilzad: And, second, lack of progress in bringing peace disappointed the leaders of the United States. The agreement (articles) were related to each other and the US withdrawal was a condition for the implementation of the agreement's articles by the Taliban. The US leaders arrived at the decision that if we go forward based on the terms written in the agreement, we will be stuck forever in Afghanistan, and our final goal, which is withdrawal, will be at risk.    

Najafizada: Right, let me come to the details of the process.  

Khalilzad: Sure. 

Najafizada: Let’s start from the point when Trump asked you to accept this job and you said that from the beginning Trump wanted to withdraw troops.  

Khalilzad: Yes, he did.   

Najafizada: Then it was a negotiation about the withdrawal from Afghanistan from the beginning.  

Khalilzad: No, it was pretty clear that it was a withdrawal negotiation but it wasn’t only withdrawal. Trump and later Biden agreed to withdraw forces because the Afghanistan war was not going in the right direction, and, on the other hand, it was so expensive for America--it cost 40 billion dollars a year--and third, the world has changed. And today’s world or the 2018 world is not the same as the one in 2001 or 2002. China has become stronger, it’s not worth spending this much in Afghanistan. We should decrease the expense of Afghanistan with the withdrawal--the decrease of the number of soldiers. And second, regarding terrorism, which is the number one concern of America in Afghanistan, we should gain something. And we gave a chance to Afghans--whose war did not have a military solution-- to end the fighting in a political way.  

Najafizada: They (the US) will try--if it helps or not--but America will leave Afghanistan.  

Khalilzad: At the end it happened this way. And its result is that Biden and Trump made up their minds that Afghans are not serious about peace: some of them preferred the situation to continue as it was rather than having peace, and each of them wanted a peace that wasn’t practical.  

Najafizada: Then we come to the conclusion that the basis of this process was the withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan.  

Khalilzad: It was one of the reasons, and its other principles were on terrorism and also giving a chance to Afghans to sit at the negotiation table alongside each other--and we acquired this.  

Najafizada: Why didn't America sit in at the negotiation table with the former government and withdraw its troops from Afghanistan?  

Khalilzad: It wasn't necessary to negotiate with anyone to withdraw its soldiers.  

Najafizada: It was a security agreement.  

Khalilzad: The security agreement didn’t require that we should have soldiers in Afghanistan.  

Najafizada: Then why should the withdrawal of America have happened through Doha, Islamabad and so on?  

Khalilzad: It is a very important question. The US did not need anyone’s permission to withdraw from Afghanistan because it didn’t get permission when it came to Afghanistan. The Taliban was in power, did it allow the US to come? There was no need for anyone’s permission.  

Najafizada: It was Khana Khala.  

Khalilzad: No, because it had been attacked from there, and they warned them, but they didn’t accept the warning and that was the reaction. And the world also stood by them. But withdrawing was not the only goal, if it was the only goal the Americans could do what you said. It wanted to receive assurances about terrorism and give the Afghans a chance for peace and negotiation.  

Najafizada: Both topics are important and we will discuss in detail. When Biden became the president, he asked you to continue your job and in less than three months he declared that we (the US) want to leave Afghanistan without any conditions. Why?  

Khalilzad: well, it's one of the important changes.  

Najafizada: Were you aware? When they declared it, were you aware?  

Khalilzad: Yes, I was in touch and we would have preferred to act based on principles in the agreement.  

Najafizada: Did you tell him?  

Khalilzad: Yes.  

Najafizada: He didn’t listen to you.  

Khalilzad: He not only didn’t listen to me, but he also didn’t listen to some senior advisors either, because what he had experienced with previous negotiations--his fear and concern were that if we make it conditional with an intra-Afghan agreement, they may never reach an agreement.  

Najafizada: Did you agree with this part of it?  

Khalilzad: There was that possibility.  

Najafizada: How much did you insist that the withdrawal should be based on conditions?  

Khalilzad: It had been discussed many times that the agreement is conditions-based, but it was the decision of the president to withdraw troops from Afghanistan based on the schedule.  

Najafizada: Did your colleagues like Blinken and others agree with you?  

Khalilzad: I don’t want to name everyone’s names, but there were high-ranking officials and a number of America’s allied countries who agreed with this thinking.  
Najafizada: Did you become disappointed? How did you feel after that declaration? Some people say that the peace process died after that announcement.  

Khalilzad: No, some of the people in Afghanistan did not think that America would leave Afghanistan, because according to the geostrategy, Afghanistan is the most important country--China is close to us, Russia is close, Pakistan and Iran. How is it possible that a country would leave such a country, with such a location? However, I told the leaders in Kabul many times: Do not misunderstand, America seriously will leave Afghanistan.  

Najafizada: It proved it.  

Nafafizada: What was the effect of Biden’s declaration on the Taliban?  

Khalilzad: I think the effect was that they calculated the situation better than the government knowing that America was leaving and was serious about it. And those in the government were thinking that Biden does not care about the Doha agreement --or they dismissed me as they made it sometimes personal----and they thought the troops would remain, I think they (the government) woke up. My hope at that time was that it was possible that they come to an agreement and we could continue our efforts for an agreement. And we convinced the Taliban to not attack America for four more months because Americans stayed in Afghanistan four months past scheduled deadline.  

Najafizada: Did the Taliban stay committed to the peace process after the 14th of April? In your point of view?  

Khalilzad: They did, but their view changed regarding the result of the negotiation. Because the situation was changing rapidly. The Taliban at the beginning was talking about a power-sharing government. And even I made a suggestion to them because they were not making progress. But Kabul soon released it-- and I think it was published in the pages of TOLO-- they were not serious and released the agreement (proposal) that had been secretly given to the Taliban and the government, meaning they wanted to sabotage the proposal. After the change in the situation  and up until the 15th of August, the Taliban was saying that although they had progressed militarily, they wanted an inclusive government.  At the end they were saying that the first person (president) should be from the Taliban.  

Najafizada: We will come to the details later because it is so important.  

Najafizada: If we go back to the declaration of Biden, the Taliban started attacks on Afghan districts and up to early August they did take control of 200 districts. What were you doing in those days and nights? 

Khalilzad: We were surprised that after 20 years of investment in Afghanistan’s army--and with the bluffing we heard from Kabul that 'we are going to defeat the Taliban within 6 months' and statements like 'we will fight in the Afghan style because America was not letting us to fight in the way required.' 

Najafizada: How were you evaluating the Taliban’s action? Wasn’t it a violation of the agreement you made? Attacks on the cities and districts?  

Khalilzad: There is no doubt there were violations from the Taliban too.  

Najafizada: What did you do, did you put pressure on them?  

Khalilzad: We reacted, we attacked them. They had captured some areas of Kandahar like Arghandab. America was very serious, they were saying that America is stepping out of the agreement because we launched many attacks on them. They were pushed back. One thing that the Doha agreement accomplished, which has not been paid attention to, was that the Taliban agreed that they will not attack Americans, and agreed that we (the US) can come to the support of the Afghan forces.
And they were saying that where the war happens we should come to the support of the Afghan forces, but we even went further.  

Najafizada: In Doha, how much pressure did you put on the Taliban when the attacks were increased?  

Khalilzad: We put a lot of pressure on them. The Taliban made suggestions involving ending the attacks on (the Afghan army).  

Najafizada: What were (the suggestions) besides the surrender and release of prisoners? 

Khalilzad: It was that they will not attack the centers of the districts and highways and that further trust-building should occur. And besides that, a number of prisoners from both sides should be released. At that time the government was saying that nothing is acceptable for us except a permanent ceasefire.  

Najafizada: We will come to the government.  

Khalilzad: Even soldiers and senior military officials were, unfortunately, saying that decreasing the level of war and not attacking the district centers and cities (by the Taliban) and (instead) war in villages will favor the Taliban and be harmful for the government. Believe me, the government failed to make good calculations. 

Najafizada: If we talk about the Taliban side, later we will come to the government’s issues. 

Khalilzad: OK  

Najafizada: How serious was the Doha office, as now we look at the fate of people such as Mr. Baradar--when you were putting pressure on them, how much influence did they have on their fighters in Afghanistan? 

Khalilzad: We tested how much influence he had on his fighters.  

Najafizada: It means that you were talking to the right people in Doha? 

Khalilzad: I don’t have any doubts in this regard.  

Najafizada: You released Mullah Baradar from the prison and brought him.  

Khalilzad: Before we signed the agreement we wanted to make sure that 80% of the war would stop for seven days so we should know that 'you are the representative of the Taliban.'  

Najafizada: But where is he today?  

Khalilzad: Well, we will come to today’s issue. If you want to go back to the end of the issue.  

Najafizada: It is an issue of whether Mr. Baradar was an influential person? And was he a person with authority?  

Khalilzad: There is no doubt about it. The agreement that he consented to was signed by the United Nations, and passed by the Security Council to show that all the forces are under his influence. And we said that for seven days the war should decrease by 80%  and he proved it. And what happened later and what is going on now-- it has its own reasons and we may talk about it.  

Najafizada: Right, Mr. Ambassador, apparently it seems that the Taliban think that the entire collapse of Afghanistan was a military achievement rather than a diplomatic achievement.  

Khalilzad: Why did this happen?  

Najafizada: Some people say that the Taliban were not committed to the peace process. Were they?  

Khalilzad: I will tell you why they took over Kabul.  

Najafizada: We will come to the issue of Kabul. The day of the collapse is the most important part of our interview. Were the Taliban committed to the peace process?  

Khalilzad: One side cannot make peace--both sides which are at war should make peace, these talks are related to each other, you say that the reason that it didn’t happen is the guilt of one side.  

Najafizada: No, I didn't say that.  

Khalilzad: That can be concluded from what you say. 

Najafizada: Afghanistan’s government did not want peace, right? We put this aside. Did the Taliban want to make peace?  

Khalilzad: Each of them wanted peace based on their conditions; peace does not come from the air, peace means what you give and what I receive. What is acceptable for both sides to agree on in order to end the war. They could not reach that, both sides could not reach a decision on what to give and what to receive. Now we can talk about what they wanted. 

Najafizada: On the day of the collapse, you were in Doha?  

Khalilzad: Yes, a few days before that I was also in Doha.  

Najafizada: What kind of agreement had been agreed on?  

Khalilzad: Well.  

Najafizada: If you could go into details a little bit.  

Khalilzad: The agreement was that the Taliban do not go into Kabul, they do not enter Kabul, and some of its forces which were in Kabul will exit Kabul.  

Najafizada: With whom did you make this agreement?  

Khalilzad: With Mullah Baradar and his team, and at the same time an authorized delegation was set to come from Kabul. Mr. Karzai, Dr. Abdullah and some others who were with them and the president’s team, and in two weeks they were to agree on an inclusive government. And even the number of ministers from both sides were put forward. 

Najafizada: What were the details?  

Khalilzad: I don’t want to share with you who was supposed to take which ministry.  

Najafizada: But there was power-sharing?  

Khalilzad:  Yes, power-sharing was discussed. 

Najafizada: Was it 50-50?  

Khalilzad: I think the power-sharing was less than 50% for the government in that situation because Kabul was surrounded by the Taliban, but more than 10 ministers of the republic were discussed for inclusion in the government.  

Najafizada: Did they talk regarding the names?  

Khalilzad: We said that this is not our decision, it was a suggestion that came from one side and we transferred it to the other side.  

Najafizada: Who suggested that?  

Khalilzad: From the side of the Taliban it was agreed that some of the members of the republic's government would be in the inclusive government.  

Najafizada: Were they in the government or out of the government?  

Khalilzad: I don’t want to talk more about these issues at this time.  

Najafizada: Because the intention of the Taliban is important regarding peace.  

Khalilzad: Trust me – with the situation in Kabul at that time, they were ready to accept some well-known people in their government who were involved in the war. And at the same time it was agreed that when this authorized delegation comes and achieves a result, that result will be final. And Ashraf Ghani agreed with that.  

Najafizada: What would have been the structure of the government, would it be an emirate, republic, or state?  

Khalilzad: It would have been an interim and inclusive government for a particular period of time. Of course, the Afghans would discuss these issues--a council or a Loya Jirga (great assembly) comprised of approximately 200 people would have been formed and they would conduct the transition of power.  And President Ashraf Ghani agreed to it.   

Najafizada: Did you call him to transfer the message? 

Khalilzad: My team was in contact with Ghani’s team. And I was close to them (my team) and I was hearing (they were discussing it). 

Najafizada: With whom?   

Khalilzad: Those who were present with him inside the room. You can talk to Abdul Salam Rahimi (Ghani’s special envoy for peace affairs) and Abdul Matin Big (member of the peace negotiation team) about this.    

Najafizada: Did Ghani confirm it?   

Khalilzad: He confirmed and even reportedly recorded a video to announce the issue to the nation. If the video exists, the names (of the people) I have mentioned can give details to you. Mr. Matin Big I guess write on Twitter on that day. And also the Taliban tweeted the issue. In the last days, this was also a possiblity but it wasn’t properly used.   

Najafizada: What was President Ghani’s request on that day? To exit Afghanistan or to stay in Afghanistan?  

Khalilzad:  It was mentioned. One night before, the US Secretary of State Mr. Blinken talked to him, and he (Ghani) told him that he will stay in Afghanistan and he has no plans to leave.   

Najafizada: You didn’t talk to Mr. Ghani on the day of Kabul’s collapse?   

Khalilzad:  No, I didn’t on that day.   

Najafizada: He wasn’t talking to you. Or you didn’t want (to talk)?   

Khalilzad:  No, my team was in talks with his team and the US secretary had talked to him the night before.  

Najafizada: Did the Americans know anything about the fleeing of the president?   

Khalilzad:  I didn’t know anything. I don’t think anyone in the US government knew that he planned to quit the country.  

Najafizada: If he didn’t leave, what would the situation be in Afghanistan?   

Khalilzad:  Well, one possible way that was also agreed, was that this team (Taliban) would come forward and reach an agreement on the government, and an oath-taking ceremony and transition of power would be performed. It would have been much better for Afghanistan.   

Najafizada: Did the Taliban confirm who would lead the government?   

Khalilzad:  I think when the situation reached that point they (Taliban) would insist that the head of the (government) should be one of their leaders.   

Najafizada: You have mentioned that. Who would that have been? Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada (supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate) or Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (first deputy prime minister)?   

Khalilzad: We didn’t talk about these issues. We left this issue for the two sides’ teams to negotiate and to reach a breakthrough. It was an agreement among the Afghans. It could not have been an agreement between the US and the Taliban.  

Najafizada: But apparently, every peace path was going through your office?   

Khalilzad:  No, if it was going through (our office) and if we had control of it, trust me, the situation would not be like this.  

Najafizada: You were the one who gave this message to Ghani and his team, not the Taliban?   

Khalilzad:  Trust me, let me add something in this regard and it may even complicate the issue: In fact, the ARG (presidential palace) team was in contact with us and at the same time had direct contact with the Taliban.   

Najafizada: The Taliban in Doha or the Taliban on the battlefield?   

Khalilzad: I will say the Taliban. I currently don’t want to give more details concerning whom the (presidential palace) was in contact with--with which Taliban they were in direct contact. 

Najafizada: Was it for peace?   

Khalilzad: To provide assurances about understanding (trust-building).    

Najafizada: It means, they didn’t believe your word?   

Khalilzad:  I don’t know.  These issues are very complicated. You know, in Afghanistan, the channels are open to various elements. I can say that they had their own channels.   

Najafizada: With Haqqani?   

Khalilzad: They had them--I can say 'with the Taliban.'   

Najafizada: Do you know Sheikh Tahnoun (bin Mohammed Al Nahyan)?   

Khalilzad: Yes, He is the Ruler's Representative of the Eastern Region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.    

Najafizada: Mr. Ghani has traveled to the Emirate (UAE) several times. He also made some contracts such as Kabul Airport’s management affairs to a company that belongs to Sheikh Tahnoun. He also sent an airplane to the president in Uzbekistan. What was his role in a process that was mainly played by Qatar? What did the UAE demand with the evacuation of President Ghani?   

Khalilzad: I have no information to give on this. What you have mentioned, we are also aware of. The UAE wanted to play its role in peace in Afghanistan. A meeting, in which I also participated, was held there. But I can’t say anything about the relations between the UAE and Dr. Ashraf Ghani or Ghani’s security adviser.   

Najafizada: Don’t you think the UAE was not happy with the peace process that was managed by Qatar?  

Khalilzad: We have attempted to inform all the rivals in the region and to form a regional and international consensus and we always informed the UAE. When they tried to have a role by hosting a conference between the government and Taliban, we welcomed it and showed up for it. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen.   

Najafizada:  The Taliban didn’t accept?   

Khalilzad: The Taliban didn’t accept, even a team that came from Kabul to Abu Dhabi didn’t attend the meeting.   

Najafizada: You criticize Ghani’s management, in this interview and before. But you have a longtime relationship with Mr. Ghani. You have supported Mr. Ghani in the election.   

Khalilzad: I didn’t officially support him (Ghani).   

Najafizada: Was it personal support?   

Khalilzad: Well, it is a fact that Mr. Ghani asked for my opinions on his plans. And if Dr. Abdullah asked me about my opinion-- because he is also my friend I knew him before Bonn in the 1990s. 

Najafizada: But your choice was to support Ghani in 2014?   

Khalilzad: I didn’t support him (Ghani), but when they ask for help--although they asked for more help, I just gave my opinions regarding the papers he had sent to me.   

Najafizada: Did you change your stance in 2019?  

Khalilzad: I wanted the elections to not be held in 2019. The focus should be on peace. The election and its chaos wasted time. We tried to prevent the two oath-taking ceremonies and the announcement of two presidents.   

Najafizada: It was announced, and you supported Ghani?   

Khalilzad: There have been a lot of questions on why I attended (Ghani’s oathtaking ceremony). First, ask the teams of Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani about how hard I had tried to (prevent this chaos).   

Najafizada: You threatened Dr. Abdullah that the US military would intervene?   

Khalilzad: No, let me tell you that I tried hard to prevent the creation of two presidents.   

Najafizada: But your stance was clear that Ghani should lead and Dr. Abdullah should join him?   

Khalilzad: No, I will explain it. I sought for the two to join each other and to reach an agreement. On the same day when the two sides made the oath-taking ceremonies. At 3:00 am Dr. Abdullah agreed to go with me to Ghani to reach an agreement. But no agreement was made.  

Najafizada: Who was to blame, Ghani or Abdullah?   

Khalilzad: To tell you the truth, Dr. Abdullah had some flexibility but Dr. Ghani rejected (power-sharing).  

Najafizada: But you still (participated in Ghani’s oath-taking ceremony) on the next day?   

Khalilzad: After this attempt was rejected. Despite this, pressure was put on Dr. Ghani that aid would be affected.  

Najafizada: But you didn’t threaten with the military?  

Khalilzad: We didn’t threaten that. The commander of our forces, and Afghan military top officials, came to me at the residence of the ambassador at the embassy where I lived. They told me if two presidents are announced, there is a risk that the Afghan forces will divide into two sides and they will fight each other despite the ongoing war with the Taliban. 

Najafizada: Exactly. then you have chosen?   

Khalilzad: After consultation with the advisers, we decided to support someone who will be commander-in-chief.   

Najafizada: But the commander-in-chief left all the forces and Kabul collapsed? 

Khalilzad: This was a new scenario that we witnessed.     

Najafizada: Don’t you think the Afghans paid a high price for this decision?   

Khalilzad: The reason was that hopes faded between the first election with ex-president Hamid Karzai and Younus Qanoni, in which millions of people attended, to other elections. It was part of a series, each worse than the previous one. 

Najafizada: This is due to the lack of an established proper system in Afghanistan.   

Khalilzad: Well, that is up for discussion. What it should be, how it should be, and how it all happened. 

Najafizada: Meaning the political system in Afghanistan?

Khalilzad: One thing I want to mention is that it is better to take some responsibility instead of blaming the US, saying that Khalilzad has done it on behalf of the US.   

Najafizada: You do the same thing. You blame Mr. Ghani.   

Khalilzad: No, I mention my own faults too. But the main responsibility regarding the peace, the announcement of the two presidents at the same time--which forced the US to cut billions of aid--they (Afghan leaders) didn't care about it. What type of leadership is that?    

Najafizada: Your decisions were clear. You threatened one side. 

Khalilzad: No, we threatened the other side (Ghani) as well that if a proper position--one that would be acceptable to him--was not given to Dr. Abdullah, he would not be accepted. But if we accepted both of them as president, a war would be triggered.   

Najafizada: We don’t know what would have happened exactly.   

Khalilzad: But there was a chance. Sometimes there are scenarios with a small chance of happening, but the risks are so dangerous they should not be allowed.

Najafizada: You talked about the 2004 and 2009 elections.  

Khalilzad: In my opinion, the 2004 election was the best election of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. 

Najafizada: Yes, there was a lot of hope for it.   

Najafizada: Do you think after Bonn... Was a good establishment ensured in Afghanistan after the Bonn Conference?   

Khalilzad: When I look back, there could have been some things done differently. But if it is said that the US implemented the national constitution by force, it is wrong.   

Najafizada: Did you support a central-state government? 

Khalilzad: We didn’t have any opinion in that regard. I was the US ambassador to Iraq. You know that. I have assisted in forming the Iraq constitution as I did in Afghanistan. They have accepted the federal system. In Afghanistan, someone raised the issue of the federal system. President Karzai invited me to the presidential palace and asked me to criticize the federal system (on behalf of the US) because the federal system means the division of Afghanistan. I told him that I am the ambassador for a federal country, how can I criticize the federal system? But only Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum raised the issue of the federal system, and the rest of the leaders opposed it. They complained about the weakness of the government.   

Najafizada: I ask you as an analyst, not as part of your official responsibilities: Now that 20 years have passed, if a non-central system was established in Afghanistan do you think the situation would be different today? 

Khalilzad: There are a lot of conditional possibilities.   

Najafizada: No, only this issue.  

Khalilzad: If this issue was mentioned there would be a fight in the Loya Jirga (Great Assembly) because the diversity of opinion is high. They (Afghan leaders) granted the power to the president based on (ex-Afghan king) Mohammad Zahir Shah’s constitution.   

Najafizada: Let's get back to Afghanistan after August, which is important and is the future. Did you resign because your remarks were not being heard anymore in Biden’s administration?   

Khalilzad: There were two reasons. First, I saw the change and how that change happened, that my role was not achievable, the embassy was closed and I am not a permanent official of the government, I am in a mobile situation, traveling based on the incumbent president’s demand and situation. Second, I thought the political situation in the US was such that it wouldn’t allow an open hand to pursue what is in the interest of the US. So, I thought 'I can leave the government.'   

Najafizada: What is the US interest in Afghanistan?  

Khalilzad: I think the US interest is in the stability of Afghanistan. That it doesn’t become divided. That the people of Afghanistan do not face economic collapse or another big war. Or that other terrorists do not emerge and the terrorists don’t have more space. To achieve this, it is necessary to take steps to complete the Doha process, which has not been completed. The Taliban have demands of the world and the US. The US has demands based on the Doha agreement and based on concerns regarding Afghanistan, such as human rights, political inclusivity and countering terrorism. There are demands on both sides. It needs to be resolved in an agreement. Otherwise, there is a risk that Afghanistan's problems will greatly worsen as will the people's situation.  

Najafizada: Do you think the US should recognize the Taliban? Yes or no?   

Khalilzad: It depends on the situation.   

Najafizada: Today’s situation.  

Khalilzad: No, not in today’s situation.   

Najafizada: Should the US have an embassy in Kabul now?   

Khalilzad: I prefer the US to have a political presence in Afghanistan. It is mainly the security issue because the US cannot put necessary influence on the situation in Afghanistan and be in contact with Afghan leaders both inside the government and outside the government. I know why there is no contact but I am hoping the situation comes to a point that would create conditions for a US political presence.   

Najafizada: What is the status of relations between the Taliban and the US? Is there any discussion?   

Khalilzad: There are some talks in Doha. But the talks should be about a structure or a roadmap. Not only the US but its allies as well should bring their demands, and the demands from the world should all be presented.  

Najafizada: Do the Taliban want to negotiate?   

Khalilzad: Yes, there should be negotiations. The Taliban say they want to negotiate.  

Najafizada: Does Sirajuddin Haqqani want to negotiate?   

Khalilzad: I have no doubt that he wants to negotiate but there are certain problems. But the Taliban wants the embassy to be reopened and wants negotiation.   

Najafizada: Do they support girls’ access to schools? 

Khalilzad: This is a vital need for Afghanistan, and the world should stand with Afghans so Afghan girls and women can have access not only to education and work but to women's rights generally.

Najafizada: What do you say to millions of Afghan girls who have been sent home and are watching your interview? 

Khalilzad: I  tell them to fight, struggle and make an effort to earn their rights.   

Najafizada: Should they protest to overthrow the Taliban regime?   

Khalilzad: Overthrowing the (current government) is a separate issue. The Taliban should ensure an inclusive, responsible government that can provide a safe environment. If they want to be part of the world, they should implement some international laws and should accept some conditions. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And I think some Taliban may not have problems with this issue. It is a positive step that girl and boy students are going to private universities. And this is positive that the high schools are open for girls in some provinces.   

Najafizada: What is the position of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, with whom you have negotiated for a year? 

Khalilzad: He is a top Taliban official. He is a patriot.   

Najafizada: In the Taliban government?   

Khalilzad: He is one of the deputy prime ministers for the transition government.   

Najafizada: Do you think he should have the top position--has he been sidelined?   

Khalilzad: I don’t want to talk about it. But I think he is someone who has compassion for Afghanistan.   

Najafizada: We don’t talk about his personality but his position?   

Khalilzad: I don’t want to talk about the position of the Taliban, in the media.

Najafizada: You can talk about some realities. You know that the Haqqani network has a strong position in the Taliban government?   

Khalilzad: It is undoubtedly true.   

Najafizada: Have you ever talked to them?   

Khalilzad: We have talked with some of the Haqqanis. Yes, in Doha two Haqqani members were part of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s team.   

Najafizada: Do you think that Mullah Ghani Baradar has the same influence in the Taliban government as you expected? Do you see any controversy among the Taliban or not?   

Khalilzad: Of course, there is a diversity of thought. I don’t have any doubt about this. Some of them support efforts that are in the interest of Afghanistan and the government.   

Najafizada: For example?   

Khalilzad: There is certainly a diversity of thought on the formation of the government. Who will be in the government? An inclusive government could be formed with the appointment of qualified people in some technical ministries, instead of everything being controlled by the Taliban.   

Najafizada: But some of them don’t want it?

Khalilzad: But some of them say that the Taliban gave sacrifices and we should address their problems first. And there are pressures on leaders from those who fought for them. These issues are in other governments as well. But the diversity of thought surely exists in this regard.   

Najafizada: Do you think the Taliban's current government will last for years?   

Khalilzad: The sooner these issues are resolved the better it will be for Afghanistan because Afghanistan needs the support of the world as its economic situation has deteriorated.   

Najafizada: Apparently, the Taliban doesn't show much interest in these issues.  

Khalilzad: I think some of them are interested, but they haven’t reached the path to resolve these problems, but the gates are opened for negotiations.   

Najafizada: The Taliban announcement of its current government, which is comprised of a single group, a single ethnicity, single mindset--will this survive for years?   

Khalilzad:   I think it will be difficult if an inclusive government is not formed.  

Najafizada: What will happen? A war will happen?  

Khalilzad: There will be some problems. Daesh is a big problem. The main enemy of Daesh is the Taliban. All the problems will not be resolved in one or two days, but there should be some progress in normalizing relations between Afghanistan (political leaders) and the Taliban. But there may be some who might not pay attention to this and may believe that Allah will resolve everything. But it is the responsibility of the Afghan leaders to reach an agreement to resolve problems.  

Najafizada: As you said, Afghanistan has not reached the last chapter of the book.   

Khalilzad: No, Afghanistan is a country with 5,000 years of history. A new chapter is opened.   

Najafizada: Do you think a civil war is possible in the upcoming years or you don’t know?   

Khalilzad: It depends on the decisions. If the proper decisions are made--there are none, but if the proper decisions are not taken, there are. Everyone inside and outside should try to lead Afghanistan toward a positive path--not to war--and the people of Afghanistan can live in peace and become economically developed. But this depends on the decision taken by Afghan leaders, both the Taliban and other political Afghan leaders.   

Najafizada: You have mentioned Daesh and called it the main enemy of the Taliban. It seems Daesh has recently (restarted by) targeting the Shias in Afghanistan. It is not new but it has escalated recently. The attacks in Kandahar, Kunduz, Kabul and other attacks. There are no relations between the Daesh and the Taliban?   

Khalilzad: As long as I know, one of the toughest enemies of Daesh is the Taliban. I was telling this to the former government--that they can reach some progress on this as it is a mutual enemy. The government was saying that Daesh was a branch of the Taliban. And the Taliban was saying that Daesh was active under the intelligence agency of the (former) government. But in fact, it was an enemy of both, the republic and the Taliban.   

Najafizada: Are there no relations between the Taliban and al-Qaeda?   

Khalilzad: The Taliban’s background shows that there were relations between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Based on the Doha agreement, they said that they will not allow any group to use Afghanistan to attack the US and its allies. The Taliban have fulfilled a massive part of this commitment.   

Najafizada: The Taliban in Afghanistan now, including the Haqqani network, has no relations with any of the terrorist groups in the world?   

Khalilzad: I didn’t say anything regarding the relations. The US is not in Afghanistan now and the situation is different from before--the US was monitoring those individuals and groups who were trying to get out of Afghanistan to a place where the US didn’t have a military presence. But now the situation has changed, a new agreement should be made based on Afghanistan and the current conditions of the US.  

Najafizada: Mr. Khalilzad! How do you want to be judged by history?   

Khalilzad: The efforts that I made were not for history nor for my personal interest. I have made my efforts and I am satisfied. I am not satisfied with the situation, however, because we haven’t reached the conclusion that we wanted, but it is not done yet. The efforts to ensure peace in Afghanistan should continue. Whether I am in the government or not, I will prolong my efforts for this great goal.   

Najafizada: Will you go to Afghanistan?   

Khalilzad: Sure, why not?   

Najafizada: Afghanistan under the Taliban rule?   

Khalilzad: That is a separate issue. But there is no doubt that I will go to Afghanistan. As I mentioned before, Afghanistan is a country with history, civilizations and a people. These changes come and go.   

Najafizada: Do you mean the Taliban?   

Khalilzad: The wheel is turning, but Afghanistan will remain.   

Najafizada: Mr. Khalilzad, the former US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation. Thanks for giving us an opportunity to talk to you.   

Khalilzad: Thank you as well.   

Share this post

Comment this post