The Powerful American Diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad

Thomas Winston
Assistant of Professor Thomas Winston,
Coleg Gwent Further Education College in South East Wales, Llantwit, the UK.

The Secretary of State Antony J.Blinken announced on October 18, 2021, that the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad resigned and his deputy Thomas West will be his successor. He was appointed as the Special Representative for Afghanistan by former US President Donald Trump and he played an important role in the US negotiations with the Taliban. Zalmay Khalilzad is considered one of the world’s most well-known and influential diplomats because he served as the US Ambassador in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009 and was also the high-rank diplomat in Iraq. He was widely recognized as the main moderator and curator of Afghanistan issues in the USA. Zalmay Khalilzad told once the journalist that he is not negotiating to be responsible for “Afghanistan’s”, but officials confirmed that former Afghan ruler Hamid Karzai brought the subject up during meetings with Ex-President Barack Obama.

Ex-Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was born 22 Mart 1951 in Mazar-i Sharif, Balkh Province of Afghanistan. Khalilzad’s father Khalilullah Khalilzad was a government official under the monarchy of Mohammed Zahir Shah and moved with his family to Mazar-i Sharif. He is an ethnic Pashtun and Khalilzad’s parents hail from Laghman Province. His mother married very young and gave birth to 13 children and only seven survived, including Zalmay. But his mother tongue is Dari and Khalilzad claims to be an ethnic Pashtun but its validity is seriously doubted; the reason being that his name uses the Persian or Tajik suffix “zad” instead of the Pashtun variant “zai”. Also, there is great doubt of his ability in being able to speak Pashto, having never been heard or seen speaking the language. He also speaks English and Arabic.

Khalilzad’s official and unofficial role in Afghanistan

His appointment was looking suspicious in terms of transparency and public diplomacy. Let’s look instead at Khalilzad record as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, a job he took for two years. Khalilzad was the real decision-maker behind the political scenes during his ambassador position in Kabul. Khalilzad was not an ordinary ambassador. He was one of the most influential and powerful people of the state with direct access to the top establishment. Khalilzad meets every night of the week at the palace with president, where he spoke and consult Karzai and his team about public governance and diplomatic etiquette. He was the master of intrigues in Kabul. But the so the central government was weak and corrupted and does not have a real power in provinces. One official, who shall go unnamed here complained that Khalilzad discussed all internal details and state secrets with him. However, we never said something directly as the experienced and attentive diplomat.

Another diplomat, also speaking on background: “He did not have any use for anybody. In other words, he tended to keep info closely held and did not share intelligence information that could have been useful to other diplomats”. So why does this matter? Was he just a career diplomat or a big manipulator with diplomatic power?

Finally, this is quite possible that the other ambassadors will be done the same in this part of the world and remove classic diplomatic methods and gain much power in the unofficial process but the personal factor is also essential especially in case of the East.


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