Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. diplomat who negotiated a withdrawal deal with the Taliban last year, is back in Doha, Qatar, desperately trying to cobble together some kind of face-saving agreement for the Afghan government that would allow them to leave the country alive.
The reason for Khalilzad’s haste is that the rate of collapse by the Afghan army has accelerated beyond anyone’s imaginings from just a couple of weeks ago. The Taliban took its 7th provincial capital on Tuesday and show absolutely no sign of slowing down their military offensive in order to negotiate a power-sharing deal with the Afghan government.
The Biden administration admits the situation is desperate. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing that the State Department was “focused on the diplomacy”—as if the Taliban care about that.
“What we are doing around the clock is seeking to find a way out of this. And here, in this department, in the Department of State, we are focused on the diplomacy,” said Price. “We are going to exhaust every diplomatic avenue, because we know the stakes if we fail to do that.”
“What we have seen in recent days, in recent weeks, the violence, the loss of life, the aggression, it is of grave concern,” he added. “If this violence continues, if the Taliban continues down this path, we are likely to see a prolonged, protracted period of violence, of instability, and that is not in anyone’s interest.”
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The only thing in the Taliban’s interest is victory. And you don’t achieve victory by negotiating away your advantages with the enemy.
The Biden administration is preparing for Afghanistan’s capital to fall far sooner than feared only weeks ago, as a rapid disintegration of security has prompted the revision of an already stark intelligence assessment predicting Kabul could be overrunwithin six to 12 months of the U.S. military departing, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
One official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the issue’s sensitivity, said Tuesday that the U.S. military now assesses a collapse could occur within 90 days. Others said it could happen within a month. Some officials said that although they were not authorized to discuss the assessment, they see the situation in Afghanistan as more dire than it was in June, when intelligence officials assessed a fall could come as soon as six months after the withdrawal of the U.S. military.
Like any losing politician, Joe Biden is casting about for a scapegoat. He appears to have settled on the Afghan government. White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the “onus” is now on Afghan leaders.
“The president continues to believe that it is not inevitable that the Taliban takes over Kabul or the country, and that they need to show political will at this point to push back, and obviously there’s a political process that we continue to support,” Psaki said. She’s referring to those moribund talks in Dohar that soon will be irrelevant.
The Biden administration is threatening to get other nations to withhold international support if the Taliban continues to try for an outright military victory. It’s doubtful the Taliban cares enough about that to halt its offensive.
On Sunday, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad traveled to Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, for “several planned rounds of meeting” to “help formulate a joint international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan,” the State Department said.
In the three days of meetings with representatives from countries “in the region and beyond as well as from multilateral organizations,” Khalilzad will press for “a reduction of violence and ceasefire and a commitment not to recognize a government imposed by force,” and will urge the “Taliban to stop their military offensive.”
It’s hard to blame Joe Biden for all this, although an argument could be made that the withdrawal of U.S. troops and defeat of the Afghanistan secular government could have been handled better. About the best the U.S. can hope for now is to avoid a bloodbath.
The terrorists haven’t shown much appetite for accommodating the world’s sensibilities.