Khalilzad Speaks for the Taliban

By: Shujauddin Amini

The Doha peace agreement, which was the result of Zalmay Khalilzad’s efforts as the United States Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, was signed between the United States and the Taliban. This agreement led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the fall of the previous government, and the reinstatement of the Taliban. Recently, Khalilzad has expressed his opinion on the disputes between the Taliban and Iran, stating that the Taliban have acted with restraint and statesmanship in regards to Iran’s claim from the Helmand River. He is known for tweeting to support the actions of the Taliban, and this is not the first time he has done so.

What is the purpose of Khalilzad’s statement in this context?

  • Khalilzad is attempting to encourage the Taliban to engage in warfare, aware that the United States is pleased with the escalation of the conflict between the Taliban and Iran. One of America’s objectives is for the Taliban to be a source of disruption for Iran and its other regional adversaries, and it will not hesitate to make any effort to weaken Iran. Conversely, Iran also desires to keep the sentiment of anti-Americanism alive in the minds of the Taliban. Khalilzad is attempting to signal to the Taliban that, in the event of a confrontation with Iran, the United States will be on their side. Khalilzad can be seen as America’s mouthpiece. In light of this danger, Iranian authorities are taking careful steps in dealing with the Taliban so that they do not become a tool of America against Iran’s interests. The fact that the Taliban are armed with American weapons reinforces this fear in the minds of Iranian officials.
  • Zalmay Khalilzad is attempting to alter the perspective of Western countries, particularly the United States, towards the Taliban, as there appears to be a divide between the Western countries and the Taliban. These countries have not had a cordial relationship with the Taliban, largely due to the Taliban’s violations of women’s and human rights. With this statement, Khalilzad is attempting to persuade Western countries to support the Taliban despite their activities, asserting that the Taliban are not yielding to the demands of Iran (the Western countries’ rival) and thus deserve support. He is attempting to obscure the Taliban’s injustices by emphasizing the “water rights” conflict. Additionally, by standing against Iran, the Taliban can sway public opinion in Afghanistan to support the Taliban, thus bringing them closer to gaining internal legitimacy, which is what Khalilzad desires.
  • Ambassador Khalilzad seeks to present himself as a nationalist in order to demonstrate that representing the United States’ interests has not caused him to become indifferent to Afghanistan’s interests. In his speech, he stated that Iran’s leaders are allegedly threatening Afghanistan with a wide range of hostile actions, including Khalilzad is associated with discontent among the Afghans, with many accusing him of being instrumental in the downfall of the previous government and the re-establishment of the Taliban. It is true that there were numerous factors involved in the fall of the previous government, but the agreement that Khalilzad signed with the Taliban on behalf of the United States is considered to be the most significant factor. He artfully referred to “Afghanistan” instead of “Taliban” and declared that Iran is purportedly using coercion against Afghanistan. With this statement, he is attempting to stir up public opinion in Afghanistan against Iran while simultaneously attempting to improve the unfavorable image that has been created of him in the minds of the Afghans.
  • Khalilzad wants to reassure that the Taliban have changed, arguing that they have demonstrated their commitment to the Helmand Water Treaty of 1972. He is implying that the Taliban are not a relic of the past and are willing to abide by international and regional customs, regulations, and norms. It is the neighbors of the Taliban who are threatening to start a war and refusing to engage in dialogue. Khalilzad does not believe that the Taliban, who signed the Doha agreement with him, are refusing to implement its provisions, and for almost two years the world has been unable to direct this group towards fulfilling its provisions. They have not signed it and are not fully aware of its contents, so they should be obligated to do so. Assuming the Taliban’s commitment to the aforementioned treaty, what would be the implications for their stubbornness, single-mindedness, and ignorance in the realm of forming an inclusive government, respecting human rights, and avoiding torture, field trials, and rape? Ignoring these atrocities and believing that the Taliban are causing suffering to the enemies of Western countries is a form of oppression against the people of Afghanistan. Similarly, if the countries of the region, perceiving the Taliban to have an anti-Western sentiment, attempt to purify this group, they are oppressing the people of Afghanistan.

Since regaining power, the Taliban have been involved in numerous clashes with neighboring countries, including Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, resulting in losses and casualties. Of these, the most frequent border conflicts have been with Iran and Pakistan. The Taliban have been more responsible for these conflicts than the neighboring countries. Taliban border guards have been involved in confrontations with border guards of neighboring countries, either due to a lack of understanding (not being familiar with border guard customs) or out of recklessness. If we consider the Taliban to be self-restrained statesmen, as Khalilzad said, then the requirement for self-restraint is to avoid war with neighbors, not to enter into war with superficial excuses.