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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Veteran US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad appointed special envoy to Afghanistan

17 years after he helped plan the invasion, Khalilzad tasked with extricating US from its longest war

US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad has been appointed special envoy on Afghanistan, again. REUTERS
US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad has been appointed special envoy on Afghanistan, again. REUTERS

Former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is to reprise his role as special envoy on Afghanistan, 17 years after he helped plan the invasion of a country that Washington is increasingly desperate to extricate itself from.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Tuesday that Mr Khalilzad, a 67-year-old veteran diplomat, will advise Donald Trump's administration as it looks to clear the way for talks between Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s government and Taliban leaders.

Mr Pompeo said Mr Khalilzad would be focused on "developing the opportunities to get the Afghans and the Taliban to come to a reconciliation."

The envoy is a native of Afghanistan who was educated at the American University in Beirut and the University of Chicago. Following the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001, then-president George W Bush picked him to help plan the invasion and Afghanistan's transition to civilian government.

He served as US ambassador to post-Taliban Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

As ambassador to Iraq in 2005, Mr Khalilzad helped bring together Kurds, Sunni and Arabs to approve a new constitution, and was instrumental in running the first elections after the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Between 2007 and 2009 he served as US ambassador to the UN, where he was noted for his conciliatory style, a contrast to his predecessor John Bolton.

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Mr Pompeo, who since his appointment in April has sought to reinvigorate a State Department with hundreds of vacancies caused by dispirited leavers, has turned to the veteran to help end America’s longest war.

Mr Khalilzad’s appointment marks a trend in the Trump administration of turning back to high-level diplomats to run delicate negotiations as Washington seeks a resolution on a range of sensitive issues around the world. He is the fourth such envoy named by Secretary Pompeo in the past month, following Brian Hook, who will handle Iran policy; James Jeffrey, who will run Syria policy; and Stephen Biegun, special representative for North Korea.

Mr Khalilzad will leave his current role heading his international business consulting firm, Gryphon Partners, to attempt to deal with an Afghan-Taliban peace progress hindered by the insurgents escalating attacks across the country and insisting on direct talks with the US rather than Kabul.

One of his first orders of business will be joining Mr Pompeo on a trip to Pakistan to discuss whether the Islamic Republic has made sufficient counter-terrorism efforts to merit the resumption of US security assistance, on hold since January.

The US is putting pressure on Pakistan for its lack of commitment to Washington's strategy in Afghanistan and for allowing Taliban members sanctuary. Islamabad could be instrumental in getting the Taliban to negotiate with Kabul, Washington believes.