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Leveling a stunning broadside against the United States, Afghanistan’s national security adviser Thursday accused the U.S. envoy engaging in peace talks with the Taliban of undermining the Afghan government in order to pursue his own ambition of leading the country himself.
The official, Hamdullah Mohib, claimed chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad was only sharing with the Afghan government “bits and pieces” of information about the ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and Trump administration. Mohib also accused Khalilzad of keeping the Afghan government in the dark so that he could eventually take power.
“The perception in Afghanistan, and people in the government think that perhaps – perhaps – all of this talk is to create a caretaker government of which he will then become the viceroy,” Mohib said of Khalilzad during an hourlong conversation with reporters at the Afghan Embassy.
A State Department official pushed back on Mohib’s comments, saying his depiction of the negotiations did not accurately represent the coordination between the U.S. and Afghan governments. “Mr. Mohib’s comments,” the official said, “are inaccurate and unhelpful.” A spokesman for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mohib said he had no direct evidence of Khalilzad’s desire to essentially oust Afghan President Ashraf Ghani by attrition, but he noted that the Afghan-born American diplomat had previously considered running for president in 2009 and 2014. That, plus his “stonewalling” of the government, Mohib claimed, is grounds for suspicion.
“You connect the dots the way you connect the dots,” he said.
The Trump administration appointed Khalilzad last September to represent the U.S. in talks with the Taliban, the longest ever held with the group, over ending the long-running war and preventing Afghanistan from being a launch pad for terrorist attacks. The latest round of negotiations, which lasted 13 days in Doha, Qatar, concluded this week.
The highest level of talks yet between the U.S. and the Taliban concluded Tuesday in Qatar.Nick Schifrin reports.
By not even communicating with Kabul, Mohib said Khalilzad was “humiliating” the Afghan government and playing into the Taliban’s perception that it is simply a “puppet government of the United States.” The Taliban has insisted that it will not negotiate directly with the Afghan government, and the militants have never recognized the government’s legitimacy.
A senior Administration official told the PBS NewsHour that Khalilzad has met multiple times with Ghani, including before both major rounds of talks, and immediately after the first round of talks. The official also said Khalilzad and the U.S. are trying to push the Taliban to meet with the Afghan government.
U.S. officials believe that the national security adviser was likely speaking after coordinating with Ghani.
Mohib noted that the negotiations are particularly difficult to accept for the 350,000 U.S.-supported Afghan security forces, since they have been fighting the Taliban for nearly two decades and now watch as Khalilzad grants what Mohib characterized as substantial deference to them in the talks.
“How am I supposed to convince them that they are not being sold out?” Mohib asked.
But the senior administration official said by negotiating directly with the Taliban, the parties involved in the peace talks are making more progress than they would if they insisted on inter-Afghan discussions. And the official said the Afghan government’s failure to stem the violence demonstrates why they should not be steering the talks.
“They want to be the in the lead on this. But it’s not a war they’re winning,” the official said.
Mohib talked about a meeting with the White House, scheduled for tomorrow. But a White House official said no meeting would take place.
Mohib also suggested the U.S. was also “delegitimizing” the Afghan government by encouraging former President Hamid Karzai to lead a separate delegation that met with Taliban officials in Moscow.
The senior Administration official denied the U.S. provided any encouragement, but said the Afghan government would have to create a team, including prominent non-government officials, to talk with the Taliban in the near future.
Earlier this week, negotiators touted their agreement “in draft” on two of their four stated main goals: U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and guarantees from the Taliban that they will help ensure Afghanistan is not used to launch international terrorism..
But that accord, Mohib said, is “like having cats guard the milk.”
The Taliban negotiators are still in Doha, where the two rounds of talks have taken place. And Khalilzad is expected to return there in the near future.
Mohib said he has been sounding this alarm with American officials both in the United States and in Kabul, and that his goal in visiting Washington this week was to continue the effort.
“We see our relationship being impacted by what is going on. And we would like to rescue it,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
Ali Rogin is a correspondent for PBS News Weekend and a foreign affairs producer at the PBS NewsHour.
Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
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