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Ghani’s escape derailed last-ditch deal with Taliban, US envoy says

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Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s determination to flee the nation final month scuppered a last-minute take care of the Taliban designed to maintain Kabul out of the Islamists’ palms and negotiate a political transition, the US diplomat accountable for talks with the Taliban has stated.

In his first interview because the US exit from Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was appointed by Donald Trump in 2018 to steer talks with the Islamist insurgents, stated he had secured a two-week grace interval hours earlier than the autumn of Kabul.

Below the plan, Ghani was to stay in his put up till a settlement on a future authorities was reached in Qatar, even because the Taliban stood at Kabul’s doorways. However the safety vacuum left by Ghani’s escape on August 15 prompted the Islamists to march into the Afghan capital that day, Khalilzad stated. This in flip precipitated a chaotic evacuation of civilians and troops and successfully ended the talks in Doha.

“Even on the finish, we had an settlement with the Talibs for [them] to not enter Kabul,” Khalilzad advised the Monetary Instances. He had no inkling “in any respect” that Ghani was aspiring to flee, he stated.

The US envoy’s feedback shed some mild on the collapse of the Afghan authorities in its remaining hours and the dismay throughout the US administration when Kabul fell to the Taliban. They echo secretary of state Antony Blinken who advised US lawmakers this week he had obtained assurances from Ghani on the eve of his escape that the Afghan president was on board with Washington’s plan.

Kabul safety forces disbanded on the information of Ghani’s disappearance, Khalilzad stated. “There have been questions of regulation and order in Kabul after Ghani fled . . . The Talibs [then] . . . say: ‘Are you going to take duty for safety of Kabul now? . . . After which you understand what occurred, we weren’t going to take duty,” he stated, including he attended a pre-arranged assembly that day with US regional navy commander Basic Frank McKenzie and senior Taliban leaders in Doha.

Khalilzad rejected claims of a tacit or specific association permitting the Islamists into the presidential palace on August 15. “We didn’t give them any type of inexperienced mild or something of that sort. What we stated is what the mission of the US forces was,” he stated, referring to the airport evacuation.

Taliban Fateh fighters, a ‘particular forces’ unit, stand guard alongside a road in Kabul on August 29 2021, amid suicide bomb threats throughout the remaining section of the US navy’s airlift operation from Kabul © Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Pictures

The US envoy to Afghanistan first mentioned the standstill take care of the Kabul authorities on August 12 and reached an accord with the Islamists two days later to safeguard town’s integrity, in response to US officers. Ghani, nonetheless, was not prone to be a part of any future authorities as a result of his resignation was a precondition set by the Taliban. By August 13, the Islamists have been encircling Kabul after seizing control of a lot of the nation.

Ghani couldn’t be reached for remark. In a video posted on Fb from the United Arab Emirates on Aug 18, Ghani stated he fled as a result of his life was at risk and to “forestall bloodshed” in Kabul because the Taliban descended on the capital. He stated he left with one change of garments and described allegations that he absconded with looted money as “baseless lies”. On Twitter final week he stated his palace safety had suggested him that “to stay risked setting off the identical horrific street-to-street combating town had suffered throughout the civil struggle of the Nineteen Nineties”.

Khalilzad, a 70-year-old Republican, has come underneath hearth for his dealing with of the Taliban previously three years and the deal he brokered in 2020 underneath Trump setting the phrases of the US withdrawal. Critics say this accord squandered Washington’s leverage in negotiations, undercut the elected authorities in Kabul and helped legitimise the Islamist insurgency.

US president Joe Biden criticised the 2020 pact however retained the Afghan-born diplomat as prime US envoy to Afghanistan — a choice that Khalilzad stated stunned him “at one degree”. In a mirrored image of Kabul’s resentment on the deal he negotiated and expectations Biden would appoint another person, Ghani at one level refused to fulfill him.

“I used to be ready, clearly, to go away,” stated Khalilzad.

A former US ambassador to Afghanistan who has labored on the area for 4 many years, he blamed these earlier than him for the constraints of his 2020 deal. He recommended successive US administrations had progressively lowered their calls for because the Taliban made navy features. His 2018 appointment “was the results of what had not gone proper,” he stated.

Abdul Ghani Baradar, proper, chief of the Taliban delegation, indicators an settlement with Zalmay Khalilzad, in Doha, Qatar on February 29 2020 © Ibraheem al Omari/Reuters

“[People] are searching for a scapegoat of some form,” he added. “I’m certain I may have executed higher — folks would count on me to say that. However once I replicate I did my best possible that I may, given the playing cards I used to be handled within the circumstances, the basics.”

Requested whether or not he thought-about resigning, he stated he all the time had a letter prepared that he saved at residence “as a result of right here [in state department] any person would possibly take it”.

Within the hour-long interview, Khalilzad additionally denied claims from the CIA’s former regional counter-terrorism chief that he was “dabbling” and had overpromised in an effort to change into Trump’s secretary of state as “whole nonsense”.

The duty for the messy ending of America’s longest struggle lay largely with the Afghans, he stated. “[T]he undeniable fact that they didn’t [negotiate peace] or one aspect disintegrated, that’s not the duty of the USA. It’s not my duty.”

Khalilzad stated he nonetheless mourned the failure to ship a political settlement with the Taliban years earlier. “There can be loads of soul looking out,” he stated.

Further reporting by Amy Kazmin in Delhi

https://www.ft.com/content material/ee113fde-bfc5-417d-b123-2abcf639f95e | Ghani’s escape derailed last-ditch take care of Taliban, US envoy says

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