24 March 2019

The State Department is Putting Ego Above Security in Afghanistan

by Michael Rubin 

U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the State Department continue to seek to silence any criticism of their framework deal with the Taliban. Prior to Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib’s visit to Washington last week, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul refused to issue a visa to Amrullah Saleh, the former chief of Afghan intelligence and interior minister and a man who has literally put his life on the line to protect U.S. troops and fight the Taliban. The reason was to prevent Saleh from briefing congressmen on the direction of Khalilzad’s framework deal with the Taliban.

Such effort to prevent criticism is already a bad sign. After all, if the deal is as solid as Khalilzad and the State Department say, the merits of the deal should survive open and honest debate.

Mohib, who is personally and professionally close to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, did level such criticism which, while blunt, was also valid. The core of his complaint was that Khalilzad was cutting the elected Afghan government out of the process and thereby undercutting it.

Kabul is not alone in their frustration with Khalilzad. Khalilzad refused to brief or even talk to India about his dealing with the Taliban until this past January, a curious omission given Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s calls for India to take a greater role in Afghanistan. New Delhi is right to question how they should be expected to take a greater role in Afghanistan’s future if Trump’s envoy for reasons of ego, ambition, or ease will not talk to them about his dealings to shape Afghanistan’s future. In many ways, Khalilzad’s behavior to cut out allies and subvert the normal U.S. diplomatic process is reminiscent of Christopher Hill’s diplomacy more than a decade ago with North Korea. It was common for Hill to go into a room alone with North Korea, sanitize records of conversations, and seek to silence any criticism in order to achieve a fait accompli. Suffice to say, it did not work…

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