Khalilzad Still Wants to Ruin Afghanistan

by Joshua Foust on 5/19/2009 · 8 comments

Bush crony and original neocon Zalmay Khalilzad—the man who tried to build bridges to the Taliban for Unocal in the 1990s, excused the Taliban’s rise to power as “not as bad as Iran” in a 1996 Washington Post op-ed, co-opted President Karzai during the early years of his presidency as the de facto ruler of Afghanistan, and later improperly manipulated Benazir Bhutto back into Pakistan’s presidential race making her the fatal target of Baitullah Mehsud and furthering Zadari’s corrupt regime… Zalmay mother-freaking Khalilzad is angling to become Afghanistan’s “chief executive officer.”

Such an alliance would benefit Mr. Karzai by co-opting a potential rival. For its part, the White House has made no secret of its growing disenchantment with Mr. Karzai, and some Afghanistan experts said that enlisting Mr. Khalilzad would have the virtue of bringing a strong, competent leader into an increasingly dysfunctional Afghan government.

The position would allow Mr. Khalilzad to serve as “a prime minister, except not prime minister because he wouldn’t be responsible to a parliamentary system,” a senior Obama administration official said. Taking the unelected position would also allow Mr. Khalilzad to keep his American citizenship.

Administration officials insisted that the United States was not behind the idea of enlisting Mr. Khalilzad to serve in the Afghan government, and they gave no further details on what his duties might be.

They said that Mr. Karzai had sought out Mr. Khalilzad, but that the idea of enlisting a chief executive had also been raised by Gordon Brown, the British prime minister.

Color me doubtful that Hamid Karzai really would welcome Khalilzad back into his country. He seemed happy to be free of that man’s constant meddling in the state.

Although… knowing Khalilzad, he could have leveraged Gul Agha Sherzai’s dropout in exchange for gaining unelectable power in the re-elected Karzai government. I wouldn’t put it past him: he attempted some underhanded electioneering during the last presidential race in Afghanistan, leading the Los Angeles Times to allege that he actually pressured at least one candidate—Mohammed Mohaqiq—into dropping out of the race. It’s possible he’s done the same here with Sherzai, removing a potential U.S.-friendly rival and gaining much power in the process.

This is, of course, horrible news for Afghanistan if it goes through. Zalmay Khalilzad is an absolute snake, totally untrustworthy, and poisonous to President Obama’s otherwise good intentions for Afghanistan.

Update: A spokesman for Hamid Karzai denies the story about Khalilzad. That could be true… the question, of course, would be who in the Obama administration felt it a good idea to feed the story to the NY Times if it wasn’t true. Or the spokesman might not know of the plan. Or Karzai might be denying any involvement in the matter, much as he does for his dope-dealing brother.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 8 comments }

Anthony May 19, 2009 at 11:50 am

Funnily enough, I was thinking earlier of emailing you to ask whether you agreed with my instinct that this sounded like an apocalyptically shit idea.

Apart from anything else, if you were an ordinary Afghan (or even a member of the public in a Western country), would this not look like a blatantly sinister and conspiratorial move to you? I think it has the potential to be a PR nightmare and to hammer one of the last nails into the coffin of any positive narrative we’re trying to put forward. I also love the way it’s being fixed so he can basically play Vlad Putin to Karzai’s Medvedev while keeping his American citizenship. Fabulous.

Farhad May 19, 2009 at 11:51 am

The NYTimes maybe onto something. And there isn’t a doubt that Khalilzad is behind the curtains wheeling and dealing.

I would wait to see where Khalilzad throws his weight. He is still looking for the winning ticket before he forms his alliance. We have to see if Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah form a collation, which it reported that they are in talks this week. That could be the only challenging ticket.

If Karzai gets elected, there has to be someone besides him that calls the shots for better governance and progress. I would be more scared about Fahim as the vice president and the drug ties with Karzai’s brother and the nepotism of the Karzai clan in the affairs of Afghanistan.

And a side note, Khalilzad roots are from Laghman. And as we Afghans say, “Laghmani shaytan baazi dad” (the Laghmani fooled the devil).

Mariam Sultana May 19, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Something smells and it’s coming from Khalilzad’s neck of the desert. I’ll be blogging about this myself very soon.

Bob May 19, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Babrak Karmal, anyone?

JSDaniel May 19, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Khalilzad is capable of moving between Western and Eastern spheres of influence easily. He has built the types of connections and relationships in the financial, policy, military, and corporate sectors that a developing nation could probably use.

Look at Afghanistan’s needs in logistics, infrastructure, healthcare, education, capital markets, energy, foreign direct investment guidance, governance, policing, and military and you’ll see that there are few Afghans who can manage developing these sectors and the necessary regulatory institutions. Plenty of outsiders are coming to help with the PRT work. But that means that the Afghans themselves take little intellectual part in the actual development.

A person like Khalilzad isn’t going to do all the work. But the Laghman seem to have a critical mass in terms of educated folks so he’ll grow support from there, and he probably can wheel and deal the other tribes into a shared path and common good. Even if it’s a corporate good.

Joshua Foust May 19, 2009 at 9:38 pm

JS, thanks for commenting. Allow me to address your concerns in order:

1) “Western and Eastern spheres” doesn’t matter much for an official in Kabul. First off, most of the officials there already do — think of Hamid Karzai — but what they don’t do is relate to people in the countryside at the village level. It’s like asking people raised in New York City, to manage an insurgency in Kansas.

2) My specific complaint is that Khalilzad has used his connections to great harm to American, Afghan, and Pakistani interests in the region.

3) There is no evidence Khalilzad’s background makes him a better manager than any other American (who would not have Khalilzad’s political and social baggage). Khalilzad is about as “Afghan” as Gary Schroen—and has demonstrated as much understanding of the country.

4) There is plenty of counter-evidence to the claim that Khalilzad will “wheel and deal the other tribes into a shared path” from his previous term as Ambassador, just as there is plenty of reason to think that what’s needed in Afghanistan isnt’ yet another disconnected power-man in Kabul racing around in armored humvees and Xe watchmen, but effective governance—and the evidence on hand is that Khalilzad sidesteps or undermines government when it suits him.

Old Blue May 21, 2009 at 4:50 pm

A couple of months ago, Obama raised the concept of installing a “prime minister” to counterbalance Karzai.

The administration seems remarkably nonplussed by the whole thing. Is it possible that this is that move?

Afghan Girl May 23, 2009 at 11:28 am

Is there any doubt now that Afghanistan has become nothing more than a puppet state?!!

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