US, Afghan Govt tensions burst into public over Taliban peace talks

US, Afghan Govt tensions burst into public over Taliban peace talks

NEW YORK - Afghanistan's National Security Advisor, Hamdullah Mohib, has accused the U.S. Special Envoy to his country, Zalmay Khalilzad, of "delegitimizing" the Kabul government by excluding it from peace negotiations with the Taliban and acting like a "viceroy."

The comments made by Mohib about Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US diplomats, drew immediate and blistering rebuke from Washington, with the State Department saying that his remarks "only serve to hinder" U.S.-Afghan ties and the peace process.

“Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale summoned Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib today to reject the public comments attributed to National Security Advisor Mohib criticizing the US approach to reconciliation,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Palladino said after the meeting the between the two officials.

Hale reminded Mohib that Khalilzad represented Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “and that attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad are attacks on the department and only serve to hinder the bilateral relationship and the peace process,” Palladino said.

At the same time, Hale “expressed our commitment to the Afghan government’s stability and full participation in the peace process,” Palladino said.

Khalilzad was born and raised in Afghanistan, but studied in the U.S. and has worked in the U.S. government in various positions, including as ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

Speaking during a news conference at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, Mohib, a former ambassador to Washington, directed his attacks at Khalilzad's conduct of peace talks with the Taliban.

The Kabul government has been excluded from the talks, held in Qatar, because the Taliban refuses direct negotiations with the Afghan government, insisting it is a puppet of the West and demanding that foreign troops pull out of the country before bilateral talks can begin.

U.S. officials have insisted they will not accept a peace deal with the Taliban without direct talks between the militant group and the Afghan government.

Kabul in the past has expressed anger over being kept out of the talks, but public comments targeting the top U.S. negotiator are extremely rare. Officials were angered again this week when Khalilzad wrapped up the latest round of Taliban talks in Doha and returned directly to Washington without stopping to brief officials in Kabul.

"Knowing Ambassador Khalilzad’s history, his own personal history, he has ambitions in Afghanistan. He was wanting to run for president twice," Mohib said.

"The perception in Afghanistan and people in government think that perhaps, perhaps all this talk is to create a caretaker government of which he will then become the viceroy."

"We think either Zal, Ambassador Khalilzad, doesn't know how to negotiate [or] there may be other reasons behind what he's doing," Mohib added.

"The Taliban are in no mood to negotiate with the Afghan government, and there is no reason for them to do so. They're gaining. Their sole aim and expectation and reasons in wanting to talk directly with the United States is to give themselves legitimacy."

"The reason he is delegitimizing the Afghan government and weakening it, and at the same time elevating the Taliban can only have one approach. It's definitely not for peace."