Zalmay Khalilzad, Former Ambassador, Discusses the Future of Afghanistan

  • Charles Hobbs
| Apr. 12, 2012

“Afghanistan’s future is contingent on at least three factors”, Zalmay Khalilzad, former Ambassador to that country said in the context of a public address at Harvard Kennedy School’s Future of Diplomacy Project. The first is the role that the United States and ISAF would take after the formal end of their engagement. This needed to be addressed quickly, to manage expectations on both the Afghan and American sides.   It is “the 550 pound gorilla in the room,” he said.  “War fatigue” has become an issue for the American public.  “Once it becomes public perception that the Americans are on the way out, the question then becomes “what kind of deal  [with tribal entities, neighboring states and the Taliban] one can get in that environment.”

He cited Afghan domestic considerations as a second key issue. While Afghan President Hamid Karzai may often call publicly for the withdrawal of US troops, Afghan public sentiment was more circumspect, he noted. “They [the Afghan people] are not as happy with us as they were in the beginning, there’s no question about that. Nevertheless,” Khalilzad maintained, “they fear abandonment more, especially given their own history in the post-Soviet period.” Complicating matters further, 35 years of constant conflict has meant that Afghan leaders “have become extremely short-term thinkers…people think about how to survive.” American policymakers, in response, must constantly “fight to encourage Afghan officials to think about long-term solutions.”

Thirdly, Khalilzad highlighted the significance of Afghanistan’s neighbors in any eventual accord. “Without Pakistan supporting a peace process, it would be, in my view, very difficult to have a complete peace,” he said.  The key, according to Mr. Khalilzad, to convincing the Pakistanis to participate consistently in a negotiated peace process would be to elevate discussions to a “great power” level. “None of our [great power] interests are served by Afghanistan returning to be a sanctuary for extremists,” he said, and so America and other world powers “should work together as regional forces” to achieve an acceptable resolution.

Khalilzad’s visit was part of the Future of Diplomacy Project’s South Asia Week, an eight-day long series of panels, discussions, and lectures about the role of the subcontinent in 21st century international affairs. A former Ambassador to Afghanistan (2003-2005), Khalilzad has also served as Ambassador to Iraq (2005-2007) and the United Nations (2007-2009). South Asia Week also featured speeches by Cameron Munter, current United States Ambassador to Pakistan; Shyam Saran, former Indian Foreign Secretary, BJ Panda, a Member of the Parliament of India, and Nirupama Rao, current Indian Ambassador to the United States.



Click below to watch a video of Ambassador Khalilzad's February 16th speech, as well as the subsequent question and answer session with students and professors from the Harvard community:

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For Academic Citation: Hobbs, Charles. “Zalmay Khalilzad, Former Ambassador, Discusses the Future of Afghanistan.” , April 12, 2012.

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