on August 3, 2021
The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Monday that if the Taliban take over the country by force, they will not win international recognition and “they will become a pariah state.”
Speaking to VOA, Khalilzad said the United States remains committed to promoting a political settlement between warring Afghans, stressing that neither side to the conflict can win militarily.
Asked whether the US has a moral and political responsibility to ensure that Afghanistan does not slide into another civil war, after U.S. military departure, as happened following the Soviet exit in 1989, Khalilzad said “it is a point that we have kept in mind that what happened in the 90s should not be repeated and that working with the Afghans we did something big, a huge sacrifice on the part of the Afghans with our support to get the Soviets out, and then we abandon Afghanistan, and a terrible war took place and it produced challenges particularly in 9/11.
“So, we do not want to repeat that mistake,” he said adding “we have an agreement with the Taliban in principle to depart. But we engaged the Taliban as part of a strategy, a plan to have safe withdrawal of U.S. forces.”
He also said the start of the peace process was part of this strategy.
According to him, the US-Taliban agreement, signed in Doha in February last year, provided the opportunity for Afghans to sit across the table from each other, “a historic development”, to reach an agreement to agree on a formula that would have broad support in Afghanistan and international support as well.
“Unfortunately, the two sides have not taken advantage of that opportunity as quickly as we would have liked, as the Afghan people would have liked,” he said.
He reiterated that there is no military solution to the war and that there must be a “political solution, a political agreement for a lasting peace.”
Khalilzad meanwhile stated that the Afghan government “also has had challenges or difficulties in terms of agreeing to or embracing the idea of a new Islamic government and the Taliban have used force to see if it could coerce the government into agreeing to a formula for a new Islamic government, a new constitution as they see it as well.”
He said in the US’s opinion, the Afghan government cannot get rid of the Taliban, “and the Taliban cannot conquer Afghanistan and have a government that has the support of the overwhelming majority of the Afghans and international support.”
He said while the Taliban tells the US they know there is no military solution, “maybe some Taliban think there is a military solution to the conflict.”
Khalilzad said “the wise thing is for both sides to engage seriously and quickly, urgently to respond to the wishes of the people of Afghanistan for a political agreement.”
He pointed out that history has shown, over the past 45 to 50 years, that attempts by one party to impose its will on the people only leads to war.
“I hope that the leaders of Afghanistan have learned that lesson and that they need to agree to a formula that has broad support, accepts that all Afghans have legitimate rights, that those rights have to be respected and the people have to have a say ultimately in how they are governed.”
ON the gains the Taliban has made in the country in terms of seizing territory, Khalilzad said the Afghan security forces “are numerically far superior than the Taliban. They have over three hundred thousand troops, it has an Air Force and it has special forces. It has heavy equipment and both proper leadership, political and military and proper military strategy and plan and execution.”
However he added “the government forces should have done a lot better than they are doing.”
Khalilzad, who has worked tirelessly to bring the two warring sides together over the past three years, told VOA that he is “concerned very much by the lack of progress. I know that the gap has been large, continues to be a big gap between the two sides, but they need to put the leader or the interests of the Country first, rather than their own interest or their factional interest.”
“There cannot be peace without a compromise, without give and take, without respect for the fundamental rights of all Afghans men and women and the Afghans having a say, ultimately the people and in terms of what happens to them.”
He said the question now is “will these leaders rise to the occasion and put country first or will they go down in history as people who put their own interests or the interests of their faction first”.
In conclusion, Khalilzad touched on Pakistan and its relations with the Taliban.
He said: “Pakistan has a special role and responsibility, given also that many Taliban leaders are in Pakistan, located there, to do what it can to encourage peace and a political settlement as soon as possible, for it will be judged internationally also as to whether it has done all that it can or it could to promote a political settlement.
He said peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interests and that many Pakistan leaders have acknowledged this.