Zalmay Khalilzad: The Worst Sort of Pedantic Scold

by Joshua Foust on 10/20/2010 · 13 comments

Zalmay Khalilzad, the former ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad, and the UN, writes in the New York Times:

WHEN I visited Kabul a few weeks ago, President Hamid Karzai told me that the United States has yet to offer a credible strategy for how to resolve a critical issue: Pakistan’s role in the war in Afghanistan.

Not an auspicious start (note the name-dropping, the parachute punditry, the shallow use of an intermediary to frame his argument). Khalilzad goes on to argue that in order to convince the Pakistanis to become constructive partners in resolving the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. must “offer Islamabad a stark choice between positive incentives and negative consequences,” as if we were an angry school teacher and Pakistan a miscreant child acting out for attention.

Khalilzad’s idea that the U.S. should demand an immediate halt to Pakistan’s support and sheltering of the insurgency is great, except that the U.S. has been toothlessly demanding that since about 2001 or so, when we consented to the so-called “Airlift of Evil” and proved we won’t (more accurately: cannot) take strong action to force their hand. While Khalilzad says a unilateral response to a Pakistani refusal to turn against its allies must involve preparing for a response–say to the closure of supply lines–his ideas of stockpiling and ramping up the NDN are shallow and unworkable in a practical way (the transit countries of the NDN, for example, will react against the large scale importation of weapons and war equipment through their territory).

Khalilzad’s proposals to entice Pakistan into playing along are similarly shallow and unworkable:

In exchange for demonstrable Pakistani cooperation, the United States should offer to mediate disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan; help establish a trade corridor from Pakistan into Central Asia; and ensure that Pakistan’s adversaries do not use Afghanistan’s territory to support insurgents in Pakistani Baluchistan.

Does he not realize that Pakistan stands a better chance of achieving all of those things through continued support to a winning insurgency than it does to a long and drawn out series of reconciliation talks? There’s no incentive for Pakistan to subordinate its dominant position within Afghan power-politics in exchange for a toothless U.S.-led effort; and since the U.S. lacks the means to cut out Pakistan from the process, we don’t have any trump cards or credible threats to force their hands. Khalilzad also offers this:

More fundamentally, the United States needs to demonstrate that, even after our troops depart Afghanistan, we are resolved to stay engaged in the region. To that end, the United States should provide long-term assistance to Pakistan focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy and democratic institutions.

I’m scratching my head to figure out how our billions of dollars in military assistance, combined with the hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked through Kerry-Lugar, do not do precisely that.

Most of Khalilzad’s ideas are not ideas at all, but rather an advocacy for the continuation of the status quo. That is not in and of itself a bad thing, but his ideas for “tweaking” the current state of affairs–more unilateral strikes on Pakistani territory, a general tone of “forcing” Pakistan to do something that is clearly against its interests, and so on–simply don’t make any sense. The last nine years of U.S.-Pakistani relations have been variations on that same theme: forcing Pakistan to do things it is not otherwise inclined to do. The result is a strained relationship and deep, perhaps permanent opposition to the U.S. in domestic Pakistani politics. We are worse off because of it.

Then again, given Zalmay’s habit of forcing himself on the region, first by meddling with Karzai’s early administration and later by conniving Benazir Bhutto into her ill-fated run on Pakistan’s prime ministership in 2007, and then by publicly trying to insert himself as a proconsul in the Afghan government, none of this is terribly surprising. What is so ridiculous and infuriating about this piece isn’t Khalilzad’s ideas, but rather that a man with such a consistent record of failure, of putting his own personal enrichment ahead of any interests including the U.S. (shall we forget when he was shilling for Unocal and the Taliban while on Unocal’s payroll in the late 90s?), continues to have a platform and space to insert his toxic ideas into the mix. We are better off ignoring him, not soberly considering his tired old ideas once again.

Zalmay’s shallow joke of a reading list.
Zalmay’s wretched idea to become “National CEO” of Afghanistan.
Zalmay deliberately undermines President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy.
Zalmay’s power-hungry plans to rule Afghanistan.
Zalmay tricks Bhutto into returning to Afghanistan.
And much, much, much more.

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This post was written by...

– 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 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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anan October 20, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Josh, you know better than anyone the extent of anti Pakistan sentiment among Afghans. It is extremely intense among the ANSF, barely below the surface. Among Afghans more generally it might not be so bad.

Even so, Zalmay has to say this to have credibility with Karzai, ANSF and Afghans.

Currently more than half of all ISAF/Afghan supplies go through the Northern route. The Northern route can be expanded to cover the whole gambit. Spending $10 billion CAPEX on a China route would help substantially over the medium term. It would also be a godsend to the Afghan economy, substantially increasing the market value of Afghan mineral resources. Something that is a huge priority in its own right because it boost long term projected GIRoA revenue and long term projected ANSF funding.

Countries such as India and Russia want ISAF to pressure Pakistan and are willing to help expand the Northern route to this affect [President Medvedev recently said that Russia should to more to help the ANSF and help expand the Northern route.] All the 5 Stans want ANSF victory over the Taliban for their own reasons and have an incentive for faciliating a Northern route provided:
1) ISAF pressures Pakistan, supports anti Taliban Afghans close to the Stans, and commits to long term victory by the GIRoA/ANSF over the Taliban
2) ISAF pays them a cut for using the Northern route [yeah . . . dollars and cents . . . who would have figured]

There is another option. Sometimes Indians and Russians will say . . . you Americans want us to tolerate the Pakistanis, Georgians et all and we do. But if we are willing to do that, why can’t you tolerate Khamenei and get yourself an Iranian supply route? Maybe Indians and Russians are naive about the difficulty to establish an ISAF/Iranian detente . . . but the sentiment is expressed.

I think it needs to be explored. Let Karzai, Afghans, Indians, Russians use their good offices to try to pressure Iran. Their incentive is that “THEY” can continue to fight the Taliban to the last Marine or the last American dollar if they succeed.

There are ways of pressuring Pakistan. The current international aid to Pakistan is considered by Pakistanis to be a joke. Offer the Pakistanis $200 billion over 20 years in global economic aid conditioned on difficult reforms . . . or threaten to back the ANSF on a massive scale over the very long term against them [Northern and Chinese routes being necessary to do this.] Offer to buy 100 Pakistani manufactured JF-17 light attack multifunction supersonic fighters for AAF or Afghan Air Force. Offer to let Pakistanis join NTM-A in a major way. This step will do a lot to alley Pakistani suspicions about the ANSF and win for Afghans a powerful lobby within Pakistan. It would create a wave of nationalist pride among Afghans, improve their perceptions of Pakistan, and convince the region about the inevitability of long term victory by the ANSF against the Taliban/AQ syndicate.

Voila, many local Taliban want to negotiate . . . and many good things flow from that.

Oh yeah . . . was uncomfortable with some of the things Zalmay did 2002-2005. But sometimes even he says good things. However Zalmay has messed up in the past he is a son of Laghman. There is hope for him yet!!! 🙂

Moin Ansari October 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Brilliant article. Please see my article on Zalmay Khalilzad

Editor Pakistan Patriot

anan October 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Bhaiya Moin, a few points:
1) 42% of the ANA is Pashtun.
2) There is a waiting list of Afghans to join the ANA
3) The 58-59% of Afghans who are not Pashtun dislike the Taliban and support the ANA against the Taliban
4) Many Afghan Pashtuns support the ANA against the Taliban as evidenced by their desire to join the ANA. [Although admitabdly a large minority of Afghan Pashtuns support the Taliban against the ANA]
5) A large expansion in ANSF capacity is underway . . . Taliban capacity cannot match this surge
6) Many local Afghan Taliban are suspicious of the more international Taliban
7) It is in the interests of Pakistan to reach out to the GIRoA/ANSF . . . because one way or the other they will have to live with them. Even if the South falls; most of Afghanistan will not.

Gen Keane said a several perceptive things on Charlie Rose yesterday:
1) Two capable Sirajuddin battalions were 75% officered by “Pakistanis”
2) He was surprised by the number of Pakistanis and internationals fighting in Northern and Eastern Afghanistan. He said he didn’t expect to observe this.
3) In southern Afghanistan the fight was dominated by local Pashtun Afghans who were fighting for ideology and to control the government [implicitly as opposed to what was happening in the East and North]
4) QST wants control over Southern Afghanistan while letting GIRoA control most of the rest . . . at least based on current negotiations. Karzai wasn’t willing to give the QST what they want.
5) The ANA “are more than an adequete force” and that this again surprised him. Kean spent a lot of time with the ANA in his just completed trip. [would like to ask him which ANA he observed. If he spent time with 203rd ANA then his comments track. If he spent time with 201st ANA then I would be very surprised.]
6) He doesn’t think victory can be achieved in Afghanistan unless the Pakistani sancuaries are shut and unless the Pakistani ISI and Pakistani Army stops backing Sirajuddin and some other Taliban factions. There wasn’t any maybe. Keane said victory “COULDN’T” be achieved unless Pakistan changed and that the commanders of ISAF and the Afghans knew this.
7) The ANSF and Karzai respected Petraeus and thought he could win because of his victory in Iraq. [Is this true? If the ANSF are confident about victory that changes many things, including Karzai’s willingness to compromise with the QST and other Taliban factions.]

The most important comment Keane made in my view was the assertion that victory couldn’t be achieved without changes in Pakistani behaviour. Keane was always confident about victory in Iraq even if Iran and the Sunni Arab dictatorships backed anti Iraqi Government militias. [Something I always felt he was dead right regarding.] Keane has come to the conclusion that the same is not true in Afghanistan despite the ANA being “more than adequet.”

Does everyone agree with Keane?

CostofWarBlog October 20, 2010 at 5:44 pm

you make some wonderful points Anan. Petraeus, too, in his recent interview said similar thing to Keane. In bold words, he declared two important points: A big majority of the Taliban they are fighting are “ten dollar a day Taliban.” Also, he emphasized that “what we do know is that very few of the Taliban leaders actually sit foot in the country.” you can see the videos here:

Boris Sizemore October 20, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Zalmay is the sum of all evil. If the world has not figured this out yet we are in trouble.

If Washington has not figured this out, God help us.

Every one of the corrupt tweeps that is in power now from Karzais et al on down were the disciples of K.

He was the one that brought them all in. He created the poppy palace, Mall Shopping, Sky resort fantasy that has destroyed the country.

Get his roledex-you have every corrupt clown in the hierarchy…Tap his phones you find out everything….
I mean this….he is the center of every mistake and
roots of this disaster…

Karzai is nuts if he even talks to him at all. Just nuts.

K is the author of the original “double game” the one who allowed the insurgency to grow to where it was unstoppable and brilliantly laid the blame on Eikenberry. Brilliant work, destroying a country.

I would have thought he would have been censored already, I mean censored totally. He is discredited and still dangerous.


ps Anand/ Keane is clueless…don’t waste your time with him….

Did I say Muqtada Sadr?

Never…Because of K, Iran and Iraq and Hezbollah will be killing the next generation of Americans even later on.

Failed totally, Failed Always, Failed Deliberately????

anan October 20, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Boris, Keane is de facto channeling the views of many ISAF commanders. Whatever he is, what are your thoughts on his observations?

Keane praising the ANA is a “BIG DEAL.” It isn’t his style. In 2006 and 2007 he underestimated the Iraqi Army. In fact, he Keane offended many Iraqi Army senior officers during his trips to Iraq through his personal interactions with them, including by underestimating their contribution to the fight and their capacity to excute large portions of the Iraqi COIN mission. Keane was wrong about that.

Keane is basing his views on the ANA based on his direct observation. What we need to determine is which ANA did he observe. If he observed 203rd ANA, 3-111 heavy, 3-215, 1-209, or the commandos or the special forces . . . they are not representative. If he is talking about other ANA; then the dynamics in Afghanistan are shifting positively. We would be stupid not carefully consider what he is observing.

Do you agree with Keane’s assertions about the war being unwinnable without a significant shift in Pakistan?

“Did I say Muqtada Sadr?” Care to clarify? Muqtada’s milita was defeated and dismantled by the ISF. Violence in Iraq remains 95% before 2006 levels. The ISF continue to improve in quality.

If IRGC Kuds, Khamenei and Hezbollah mess with Iraqis again; they will regret it. And not because of what America does. But because of what the Iraqis and their ISF do do to them.

“Failed totally, Failed Always, Failed Deliberately????” Don’t follow.

anan October 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm

“Did I say Muqtada Sadr?” Care to clarify? Muqtada’s milita was defeated and dismantled by the ISF. Violence in Iraq remains 95% below 2006 levels. The ISF continue to improve in quality.

Muqtada didn’t do well in the last Iraqi election. He isn’t nearly as popular as Maliki, Allawi, and other centrists.

DON ANDERSON October 20, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Anand…I love your optimism, I really do. Always.

Don’t get too carried away. Ok?

Sadr has done just fine for himself, he is the king maker, he is getting begged to help by everyone and well, he is soon to Ayatollah Sadr, bright future for all of our enemies…Sons of Iraq going back to work soon in a neighborhood near you. Bet on that too. Will pay off. You buy someone, you lose someone.

Keane? Two weeks, and a propaganda report. Thats what we got.
Pakistan? Like Josh said, ” I will puff and puff and puff and puff, till I blow your brick house down” I learned that line when I was five years old.

Sorry, you can’t see anything in that time. The Afghans know the ANSF is far from ready. Hell that is what everyone WANTS to say, makes getting the hell out easier and faster. Wake up Buddy.

But you sure are a great cheerleader!! Go for it.

anan October 20, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Who is getting carried away?

The ANSF are far too small to win the war in the short term. In 1973 during peace and prosperity there were over 200 thousand ANA with a 250 K target. Per capita equivalent today would be 600 K ANSF. By contrast there are 121 ANP + 140 K ANA today. Pres Obama and ISAF have not authorized the ANSF expanding beyond 171.6 K ANA + 134 K ANP.

The ANSF needs a lot more international funding, equipping, training, advising, over the long term to win this war. Even then, it might take over a decade of hard fighting for the GIRoA/ANSF to win.

“Sadr has done just fine for himself, he is the king maker, he is getting begged to help by everyone” Happens in all parliamentary systems when there is a hung parliament. Small political parties wield great influence. Remember that Amar al Hakim, Talabani, Barzani, Mutlaq, the Awakening, Jafari also wield great influence in parliament for the same reason.

Even with support from the Sadr/Chalabi duo, Maliki still doesn’t have the votes for PM.

“he is soon to Ayatollah Sadr” Barf. :LOL: Yes he is. Good for him. Sadr is not necessarily America’s enemy. He probably hates Takfiris more than America. Hell, he probably hates Amar al Hakim more than America. 😉

“bright future for all of our enemies…” Where do you get that?

“Sons of Iraq going back to work soon in a neighborhood near you. Bet on that too. Will pay off. You buy someone, you lose someone. ” The Sons of Iraq are no match for the ISF and everyone knows it. For all the rhetoric, violence in October 2010 is close to the lowest since the Saddam years. Many Iraqi Sunni Arabs are in the ISF.

“Keane? Two weeks, and a propaganda report. Thats what we got.” Well, didn’t I say he was channeling senior ISAF commanders? But even with that, you can still gleam stuff from what he says.

“Pakistan? Like Josh said, ” I will puff and puff and puff and puff, till I blow your brick house down” I learned that line when I was five years old. ” Meaning you think Pakistan cannot be weaned away from supporting the “good Taliban”?

Do you agree with Keane that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won unless Pakistan changes policy?

“Sorry, you can’t see anything in that time.” What time? The ANSF will likely continue to grow rapidly in size and capacity for many years. This is a “LONG” war. Even if Karzai makes a deal with Mullah Omar, the war might continue with other Taliban factions [who collectively are a bigger threat to ANSF/GIRoA/ISAF and Mullah Omar centric QST] for a long time to come.

“The Afghans know the ANSF is far from ready. Hell that is what everyone WANTS to say, makes getting the hell out easier and faster. Wake up Buddy.”

Has anyone said that ANSF are large enough and capable enough to win yet? For most intensive purposes the attempt to form the ANSF started in December 2009.

Do you realize that the total number of ANP being trained at any time when Obama was elected was about 1 thousand? Will be 23 thousand by March, 2012. [Recently NTM-A claimed they will hit that target by October, 2011.]

Number of Afghans in Afghan Defense University is increasing from about 1 thousand to about 7 thousand.

Number of ANA NCOs graduating per year in Dec 2009 was 1,850. Now it is about 17,000.

How can that “NOT” have a seizmic affect on the battlefield? The affect hasn’t been seen yet. But it will be seen in a big way in 2011, and especially in 2012.

There are lag times of 3 to 10 year between investments in the ANA Training Command and ANP Training Command and actual ANSF fielded capacity.

“But you sure are a great cheerleader!! Go for it.” Who is cheerleading? How can surging ANSF capacity not transform almost everything in Afghanistan?

In 2008, Helmand represented about 45% of all Afghan violence and was deteriorating fast. Look at how the surge in ANSF and 17 K Marines have transformed the province. Can you name the last platoon sized attack on 215th ANA Corps in Helmand? Not saying it hasn’t happened recently. But it is increasingly rare.

Mullah Omar QST isn’t 10 feet tall. They are being hit very hard in Helmand and Kandahar. The fact that other Taliban factions are winning elsewhere in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a different matter.

CostofWarBlog October 20, 2010 at 5:31 pm


“Does he not realize that Pakistan stands a better chance of achieving all of those things through continued support to a winning insurgency than it does to a long and drawn out series of reconciliation talks?”

underlying your statement is the assumption that the realities for Pakistan have not changed in the past few years. Five years ago, yes Pakistan would have stood a better chance at achieving those things by supporting a winning insurgency. But today, the Pakistanis are themselves at the receiving end of the insurgency. If anything, the insurgency is more of a risk to Pakistan today than Afghanistan. Really.

Shah Mojadedi October 20, 2010 at 6:06 pm

I thought this post was about Khalizad…Anand?

I mean every day ANSF stuff is fine, but at least stick to the
topic.Day after Day of this statistic and that statistic that you
get from some PAO somewhere.

Have you ever been to Afghanistan? Ever seen the ANSF in action once?

This is just tiring, ANSF ANSF….ANSF….ANSF…

ad nauseum Anand….ad nauseum Anand…really…

Ps. You are a great cheerleader, love the optimism also

Back to the topic…Khalizad should be banned from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and every country in the Region. Nightmare. Thanks Joshua..

Adnan Kakar October 20, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Same for me.

Talking about what the ANSF will do when they have their own areas if and when later is useless now.

Lets just wait and see…

Glad someone cares about the process for them, but too early to say anything.

Anand will be totally right, or completely very wrong. Let’s see

Homira October 20, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Josh, you totally rock. Boris, you too. Shah, I hope we’re related. I too am flabbergasted that the NYT gave him a platform. But he owns most of the ‘analysts’, doesn’t he?

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