Ambassador Khalilzad: Good morning. Thank you Scott.
I would like to start by thanking Steve Hadley, the Chair of the Board of USIP and the staff and associates of USIP for the work that the institute does and for the support that the institute has provided to me and to my team during the past almost two years. So thank you for that.
I’m delighted to be here to discuss the peace process in Afghanistan. I briefed yesterday the Congress on Afghanistan. As I told the Hill, when I was appointed, I was given the mandate to find a diplomatic solution that brings an end to America’s longest war; reduces the burden on the U.S. military and U.S. taxpayers; provides the best chance for a sovereign, unified, and representative Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbors and respectful of the human rights of all its citizens; and ensures terrorists can never again use Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States and our allies.
My mandate was, and remains, based on the assumption that there is no viable path to military victory in Afghanistan. Based on that assumption, we engaged the Taliban and Afghan government in parallel.
In February 2020, we agreed on two important documents — the U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration and the U.S.-Taliban Agreement. Our way forward expressed in those two documents is a four-part package, interrelated. A set of assurances by the Taliban and the Afghan government that neither will allow any group or individual to use their territory to threaten the security of the United States and its allies; a conditions-based timeline for withdrawal of American and coalition forces — those are the first two conditions or parts. We are continuously engaging with the Taliban to oversee the implementation of these two aspects and to handle any related issues of concern.
As part of our bilateral relationship with the Afghan government, we do the same with regard to ensuring Afghanistan is not used by terrorists to attack the United States or our allies and to plan for our smooth departure and for the ongoing training and assistance to the Afghan forces.
I can tell you that since the signing of the agreement, the Taliban have in fact instructed their forces to refrain from attacks on U.S. or coalition forces. There have been no American deaths on the battlefield due to Taliban attacks since the agreement was signed.
Now, the second two parts of the Agreement and the Joint Declaration are about the commitments the Taliban and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have made to engage each other, to sit together and start real negotiations and come to a political settlement that promises lasting peace. It goes without saying, this is an important, indeed a determinative opportunity for Afghanistan.
This current stage is the heart of the Afghan peace process. It’s important to be fully aware of the significance of this moment and to recognize its historic relevance. What we agreed to in the first two parts and are currently implementing has opened the door to the two sides sitting together to correct history after 40 years. The U.S.-Taliban Agreement and the Joint Declaration, that was the prologue. We are now truly at the start of the book that the two sides of this too-long, too-costly conflict need to write.
The negotiations require true, courageous, and sincere Afghan-to-Afghan reconciliation. This key step puts agency with the Afghans, which is the only way for it to succeed.
The parties must now fully commit to brokering a political settlement that can close a 40-year chapter of death and despair. It will not be easy. Afghanistan is diverse and complicated. There are old elites, new elites, and would-be elites; religious leaders; urban leaders, rural leaders; there are tribes and there are ethnicities and religious sects; there are different visions in regard to a preferred political and economic system and the rights and correct relations between genders.
It is an encouraging signal that women as well as men are at the table representing the true diversity of Afghanistan, and that this was not an issue of contention. Everyone at the table shares a common history. Now they need to understand that their only path into the future must also be a common one.
So far, the signs are positive. Both sides requested that only they sit together with no international mediation. The first days of the negotiation also showed more progress than many expected. The parties met and began building relationships and establishing the rules.
There is no guarantee that the Afghans will capitalize on their opportunity. There are challenges. Mistrust and grievances are deep–rooted. There are spoilers who would prefer not to see reconciliation succeed, who are comfortable with and who benefit from the status quo and the ongoing conflict. Some of them have expended a great deal of energy and have spread a lot of disinformation in an attempt to obstruct the peace process. That is why it falls upon the international community and the Afghan people to put the spotlight on Afghanistan and urge the negotiators to understand that the whole world is watching them as well as the Afghan people. And that their own citizens are watching, as I said before, with hope and anxiety and will judge them.
As we know from past history, Afghanistan too often has become a proxy for geopolitical maneuvering. Therefore, on the regional and international front, we started building consensus in support of the peace process. And with the exception of Iran, every relevant stakeholder country and institution supported our first two documents — the Agreement and the Joint Declaration. Pakistan, India, all the Central Asian countries, Russia, China, Indonesia, every nation in the EU, the UK, the UN, and NATO and more. Moving forward we will focus on maintaining this momentum and encouraging this level of international support. Already, many countries have offered their support and help.
The official opening of peace negotiations between Afghans, attended as it was by so many diplomats from a broad range of countries, showed that the international community cares about Afghanistan and its future. Successful peace talks are the precondition to their continued and perhaps strengthened commitments to Afghanistan, something the negotiating teams are clearly aware of.
All parties have agreed that the Afghan Peace Negotiations must result in a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. This is unsurprising. The Afghan population is tired of a war that kills and wounds civilians every day, in addition to the toll on the Afghan security forces and on the Taliban.
We know that a reduction in violence is possible. The Taliban and the Afghan government carried out two Eid ceasefires this year. We expect the negotiations will soon lead to a significant reduction in violence by all sides, reducing the number of Afghans getting killed or wounded. This will help build the trust necessary for talks to succeed. We will continue to press for this reduction in violence.
One key goal the United States continues to represent is to promote universal values and Afghanistan’s development. We will work with our international partners to continue to press on the rights of women and of religious and ethnic minorities.
We have made it very clear to the negotiating teams that while the ultimate political settlement is one for the Afghans themselves to decide, the United States and the international community are deeply committed to human rights and women’s rights.
The Afghans must negotiate a solution that suits their history and their culture, but we have made it clear we expect the women of Afghanistan to have their voices heard and their views considered. The international community expects the same.
The inclusion of women in the negotiation is an important step. We have seen the women of Afghanistan are very capable of standing up for themselves and articulating their views when given the opportunity. I expect that we will soon see side events additionally focused on issues important to women and civil society and where they can share their concerns directly with all sides in the negotiations.
International support going forward will be tied to the choices Afghanistan makes in regard to contemporary universal values. These include things such as halting corruption and enforcing the rule of law, in addition to preserving the rights of women.
Successful negotiations and a peace agreement when implemented will also open up huge opportunities for economic and social development. Afghanistan is, of course, a poor country. But it is also a country with vast resources — both human and material. Peace and stability are the preconditions to significant economic growth and to international investment. And economic growth and investment in turn are essential to preserving and deepening peace, stability, and social development.
Peace and stability will have another important benefit for Afghanistan and the region, allowing for increased connectivity, trade, and development. As one leader in the region recently told me, “countries don’t develop; regions do.”
The negotiations can, of course, fail. But given what is at stake, the Afghan people and the international community led by the United States expect the negotiations to produce a road map for Afghanistan’s political future and for a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
Thank you very much.
Stephen Hadley: Thank you, Ambassador. I will now ask a few prepared questions before opening it up to the audience.
Ambassador, this month as Scott mentioned marks the two years since President Trump appointed you as Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation and since then you and your team have done what many of us thought would be impossible. First, the agreement with the Taliban in February laying the groundwork for intra-Afghan talks; and finally, a bit less than two weeks ago, the first face-to-face talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
As we enter this important next phase in the peace process are you hopeful that the Afghan peace negotiations can actually deliver a sustainable peace for Afghanistan and one that meets American interests as well? And if so, why?
Ambassador Khalilzad: Thank you, Steve, for what you said. I very much appreciate it.
I am hopeful because of several reasons. First, the cost of not moving forward — the violence and the suffering of the Afghan people — and the support, therefore, that reaching an agreement has among the people of Afghanistan, they’re yearning for peace and they’re expressing it in many ways, including in polls that have been conducted.
Even the leaders remember the lessons of history that they missed an opportunity for peace after the Soviet departure, which was a historic achievement of the people of Afghanistan supported by the United States. And yet while the world benefited from the demise of the Soviet Union to which the Afghan struggle contributed, the Afghans, their leadership at that time, made a mistake, didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, and started a vicious civil war. They remember that and it weighs on the current leaders that they can’t do that again. This is yet another opportunity.
There is also a great deal of international support for peace and almost an international consensus in support of peace. And the benefits that will come to Afghanistan in terms of development and connectivity that I mentioned.
So for all those reasons and my own conversations that I’m sure we’ll get to with both sides, with the elites, the Taliban leadership, and with the Afghan leadership, it makes me hopeful that they will reach out, compromise, accept each other, find a formula that works for them. The alternative is more violence that could go on for a long time. Both sides say they understand that.
So while nothing is guaranteed, of course, I am hopeful and the responsibility is obviously with the leaders of the two sides at this point.
Hadley: Ambassador, I want to ask you about some of those conversations, particularly with respect to the Taliban. Many here in the United States, as you know, doubt still that the Taliban are committed to a negotiation process. Many believe that the Taliban are using it as a diversion, confident that they can actually achieve military victory.
How do you assess the Taliban’s commitment to the negotiation process? And what evidence do you have that they are sincerely committed to negotiation rather than just waiting out the process, waiting for the United States to leave and then really taking control of the country?
Ambassador Khalilzad: I think based on what I see and what I’ve heard, that they’re serious about the negotiation. They have sent a very empowered senior team to negotiate. They’re prepared for it seriously. They have said to me there is no alternative to negotiation. For Afghanistan to work it has to be inclusive. That’s the lesson they’ve learned from the 1990s experience of their own. In order for them to be accepted not only in Afghanistan but also internationally that they seek to be accepted as a partner, as a normal player, there has to be a negotiated settlement. That a military victory will produce, even they used the analogy of Syria, that if there is a significant Afghan group dissatisfied some neighbors, one neighbor or another or some other player will provide assistance to that group and that the war will go on.
So based on that and on their performance, which is mixed since we have made this agreement, we see their ability and their willingness to deliver. They have the ability to do it. The team that we negotiate with, when they say a ceasefire that largely has held. When they say there will be reduction of violence, it has happened. And when they say we won’t attack foreigners, and I told you the record.
So I am, again, we’re dealing with a complicated situation and we will watch and monitor but I do believe they are taking the negotiations very seriously, for their own self-interest as well.
Hadley: Let me ask you, Ambassador, about the violence question. Last Sunday you tweeted that “over the last few days there’s been a clear rise in violence in Afghanistan.” I’d like to ask you what is the level of violence against Afghan forces and Afghan civilians? And what commitments, if any, were made in the February agreement between the Taliban and the United States? What commitments were made by the Taliban on this issue? And is the Taliban following through on those commitments? And more generally, what can be done to get the violence down, particularly violence against Afghan forces and Afghan civilians?
Ambassador Khalilzad: I agree that violence is too high and both sides, in my judgement, as the negotiations between them are starting are using violence as a means to improve their relative position to shape the negotiations.
Not surprising, the Taliban said that certain levels or types of activities would not happen after the signing of the agreement. Attacks against major cities, the 34 provincial centers including Kabul. Attacks would be reduced against district centers. Attacks against major bases of Afghanistan would not happen. And they have largely held to those. And in fact if you compare the period, the same period, numbers that I have seen for January 1st to June of last year to this year, although the agreement was signed on the 29th, you see a reduction in the number of deaths in terms of both Afghan security forces and in terms of civilian lives lost. So they have not tried to take many district centers this year. They have not tried to take provincial capitals.
But in the rural areas there is violence. There are accusations by each side that the other is responsible for it. We believe that the violence needs to be brought down by both sides. I’m in the process of talking to both. What that exactly could look like, what each side would or would not do, I’m hoping that with pressure from the public in Afghanistan and the international community, that this will be one of the first issues that we could get progress on.
But I agree with you, that the violence level is unacceptably high.
Hadley: Thank you, Ambassador.
You mentioned that one of the things that gave you hope for the prospects of reaching a sustainable peace was the support for this effort by regional states. I want to ask you specifically about Pakistan in particular. A lot of concern about the safe haven Pakistan has provided in Pakistan to Taliban forces.
How would you assess their current role in support of the peace process? And what more would you like to see them do?
Ambassador Khalilzad: I assess their role as positive, both the Prime Minister Imran Khan and General Bajwa have been supportive of the peace process. And we would like to see as an adjunct to the agreement among Afghans an agreement and understanding between the two sides — Pakistan and Afghanistan — that neither’s territory would be used against the other by forces, terrorists or violent groups, and there is progress with regards to that as well. And our relations with Pakistan as a result has improved, the United States-Pakistan relations. And of course we always are asking for more and more needs to be done, but I am appreciative myself of the support from Prime Minister Khan and General Bajwa.
Hadley: Thank you.
Many of the questions directed at you in your congressional hearing on Tuesday underscored concerns about women’s rights being lost in the peace process and you addressed that in your comments.
The Taliban had limited their recognition of women’s rights to their interpretation of Sharia and have said recently that the Afghan President should be selected by religious council that would exclude women.
Does the United States in your view have a strategic interest in Afghan women’s inclusion in the peace process and in protections of women’s rights in any eventual peace agreement? And what role should the U.S. be playing during these negotiations, recognizing that they’re Afghan-led and Afghan-owned? Nonetheless, what role should the United States play to ensure that the fundamental rights of all Afghans are protected?
Ambassador Khalilzad: This is a very important issue for the United States and for the world, and indeed for the Afghan people given the record of the Taliban in the ‘90s there is legitimate concern about what they would do as part of a future political structure in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have their own explanation for some of the draconian measures that they took with regard to women in the 1990s, but now they say that women can be ministers, women can work, women can go to school. But on our part we have made it clear that our future relations, support, will be informed by what happens on several issues but among the top one is what happens with the gains that women have made, to respect for the universally accepted rights for women. We encourage the Afghan Islamic Republic, the government, to make sure that women are at the table. Four able women are at the table negotiating. And as I said, we are considering other steps to highlight the importance of this issue with our friends and allies. Parallel events, perhaps. We are very much committed to it and what they do in this regard will be one of the key issues that will affect future U.S. assistance and relations with Afghanistan.
Hadley: Thank you. I’m going to ask one more question before opening up to the audience.
I want to ask you about U.S. troop presence. General McKenzie, Commander of U.S. Central Command, has stated that U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be down to 4500 by November. And of course the U.S. agreement with the Taliban states that all remaining troops will be withdrawn by May 2021.
You have said here, you’ve said before, that any withdrawal is conditions based. Could you give us a better sense of what conditions in your view would have to be met for the United States to withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan?
Ambassador Khalilzad: I want to say two things. One is that being in Afghanistan militarily is not an end in itself for the United States. It is conditions based. The agreement specifies the conditions.
If we implement an agreement, which has four elements — it’s a package as I mentioned. Terrorism is an issue, that we feel assured that there will be no terrorist threat against the United States from the territory of Afghanistan. And that there is intra-Afghan negotiations and an agreement on a political road map. And that there is a comprehensive permanent ceasefire. And then there is a schedule for withdrawal. I think what we will do is we will go to the numbers that you mentioned, quoting General McKenzie, and then assess where we are.
And I want to also say that it is a judgment of our military leadership that at that number we still can do the mission. The mission being counterterrorism, the mission being support for the Afghan Security Forces.
That agreement with those conditions made it possible for the Afghan government and the Talibs to sit together and come to an agreement. But it is conditions based what we do with regard to the troops and judgments will have to be made with regard to the next phase this fall.
Hadley: Thank you, Ambassador. Let me now go to our first question from the audience. This is an anonymous questioner.
Given that the deal you signed with the Taliban was an elite bargain with select individuals, in the view of this questioner, how will you ensure that the actual peace will be inclusive of all of Afghanistan and be on terms that a majority of the Afghans will accept?
Ambassador Khalilzad: The agreement that we signed with the Talibs was obviously, as it said, was with the Talibs. As I mentioned before, the Talibs demonstrated to our satisfaction that in fact these people that we were negotiating with could deliver. And one indication of that before signing was to see that they did control the forces by asking for seven days in terms of reduction of violence with a specific percentage in reduction, which was 75-80 percent in that range. I think they exceeded that or met the target. So we were dealing with as some used to say a faction or people who really didn’t have any connection to the people on the ground, that that was not the case.
The Joint Declaration was with the government of Afghanistan and we insisted and I’m glad to say we have achieved an inclusive delegation from the government, from the Islamic Republic that includes not only representatives from the executive branch of the government but also includes a representative of major political forces, civil society, women who are not part of the executive branch of the government.
So I think it is a representative group and we will also do, as I said, parallel events on issues that need to be paid attention to, that are of concern to a broad population of Afghanistan. And the delegates, the negotiating people, representatives, will have an opportunity to listen to these discussions and have recommendations presented to them.
I think that for peace to work in Afghanistan it has to be, the agreement has to be broadly accepted and that’s why we insisted on a broad, representative delegation. And for peace to work in Afghanistan it also has to have broad regional and international support. Therefore we have focused in parallel both on the Afghans and on the international community to achieve to where we are and to achieve peace, and an enduring peace. An honorable peace for the Afghan people.
Hadley: We have several questions about what will be the agenda for the talks and what is delayed agreement on the agenda between the two sides.
Charlotte Greenfield from Reuters asked, do you think the U.S.-Taliban February agreement should be the basis of intra-Afghan negotiations? Do you agree with the Taliban interpretation that using this agreement would mean that the new government should have to be formed and there should not be a full ceasefire during the negotiations until a final deal is struck?
Ambassador Khalilzad: The negotiators have been focused on rules governing negotiations. Procedures and rules. They have agreed on 18 of I think 20 or so items. A couple that they are focused on right now, and one has to do with sort of the religious issue of what rules, religious rules will apply for conflict resolution and the other, as it was said, on the role of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement.
I believe that it’s best for me not to, since it’s an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process, tempting as it might be to express myself because that would be violating my role in letting Afghans work these things out.
But having said that, the United States and other countries, very distinguished diplomats from other places are willing to be helpful. But we want the help to be asked for by the Afghans when they think they need it.
On the ceasefire issue, we are for a ceasefire. But I believe that in the near term it’s more realistic to get to a reduction of violence agreement and a comprehensive, permanent ceasefire is very likely to be part of a political settlement. So it is more likely that we will get a reduction of violence agreement. I would like to think that my judgment, based on talking to all sides, that that seems to be the most likely next step on the violence front.
Hadley: I want to ask you a follow-up question on that very subject, trying to drill a little more deeply. This comes from Jawad Nuriwal, a graduate student from George Mason University.
He asked the following: The Taliban continue to attack Afghan Security Forces and violence levels have not changed since the February agreement was signed, and you’ve addressed that and may want to say a little bit more about it. He points out that 14,000 Afghans have been killed since the February agreement.
What specific violence reduction is needed to meet the terms of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement?
Ambassador Khalilzad: I have said that overall casualties are down for the first six months of this year compared to the last. I have said that in terms of commitments made by the Talibs, no attacks on the coalition. But at the same time I describe the category that, urban Afghans live in more security since the agreement than they did last year. That doesn’t mean no violence because violence is very complex in Afghanistan, the sources of it. It isn’t just Taliban and the government. There are other elements involved. ISIS is very active in terms of violence in urban areas especially. And ISIS wants to derail the potential agreement. And as Steve would remember, I also served in Iraq and we were trying to bring the Sunni and Shiite Iraqis together, and then a terrorist group blew up the al-Askari mosque because al-Qaida in Iraq and other terrorist groups weren’t trying to bring people together, they were trying to tear them apart.
So ISIS is doing exactly that in Afghanistan and there are some others who do not wish this process to succeed, who see benefit in the status quo for themselves that are also involved in violence.
Having said all of that, the Taliban and the government are the two main contributors to the violence in the rural areas and we would like to see an agreed reduction in categories and that’s a subject of discussion at the present time.
But I want to also let the audience know that the United States comes, and is allowed under the agreement, to the defense of the Afghan forces when they are attacked by the Taliban. And that is perhaps something that a lot of people haven’t paid attention to. That while the Talibs do not attack us, we defend the Afghans by attacking the Talibs when the Talibs attack Afghan forces and civilians, when we see it or when we can act. And we do act. That’s not in the Taliban interest for this escalation between the two sides that increasingly can bring the coalition back into a greater level of violence with the Taliban as well. That should be of interest to them.
And if the violence continues at this level, the last point, it’s not good for the peace process. It decreases confidence in the peace process. It decreases trust. It increases suspicion and undermines the hopes and aspirations of the Afghan people. So they would be paying a price with the people of Afghanistan as well.
Hadley: An anonymous questioner asks: Are the Taliban indeed cracking down on al-Qaida per the February agreement with the United States? And if so, what evidence is there and how much of a presence is there of al-Qaida now in Afghanistan?
Ambassador Khalilzad: Thank you for that question. The presence is obviously, thanks to the efforts of our military and security and other elements of our government and our allies, there are a very small number even if you include al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent. And they are mostly focused on survival because we are hunting for them.
As far as the Taliban commitment, they have taken steps but this is unfinished business from our point of view. They need to take more. But there has been progress on that front as well, and as I said before, unless we are satisfied with regard to terrorist threats our commitment cannot be implemented or completed until that is done.
I’m at a bit of a disadvantage, Steve, to go into details of what they have done. I did have a closed session with members of Congress in which I shared the details of what is going on, but this is as far as I can go in this setting, as I said in the open session when I was pressed on that issue.
Moderator: We appreciate that, Ambassador.
Let me go to follow up on something you said in your opening comments. Several commenters have asked about regional dynamics including the positions of Iran, Russia and China towards the talks. You’ve been very active in diplomacy across the region, meeting with these countries. Based on that, how do you assess regional support for the peace process at this point? And what support do you want to see from them from the peace process beyond what you’ve seen so far?
Ambassador Khalilzad: Well I’m encouraged by what has been done. First by major powers — China, Russia, India, or course our European allies. We have several groupings that have been formed as a result of the active diplomatic engagement that we’ve had. We have a troika with Russia and China in support of the Afghan peace process. And the United Nations passed a resolution in the Security Council unanimously approving the agreement that we made in February. And several times I know that these countries have asked for a reduction in violence, for intra-Afghan negotiations, and some of them even have supported statements that the return of the emirate of the 1990s is unacceptable. They have sent the right messages to the best that we can judge to the side with regard to the importance of moving forward.
As far as the region is concerned, we already discussed Pakistan sending the right messages from the leadership with regard to the peace process. We also have support from Central Asia.
Iran is a bit of a challenge not because so much of Afghanistan perhaps, but because of the state of our relations with Iran. I think Iran would like to keep us entangled in a conflict without winning or losing but paying a high price in Afghanistan. And that until there is agreement between the U.S. and Iran.
But we have offered to meet with Iranians on this issue, that they should join various fora where we are there and they are there to discuss the future of Afghanistan. But we have also said that we will respond to encouragement or actual groups that are close to Iran taking action against us, the coalition partners. And we’re monitoring them very closely. There have been occasionally been disturbing actions that have had a negative impact.
I have to say that one of the perhaps unintended effects of a peace agreement which could be extremely important is the connectivity that peace in Afghanistan could facilitate. Central Asia trade to South Asia and the world — if Afghanistan could be used for that it would cut the cost and the time that they now have to suffer from in order to be able to do trade. Therefore there are lots of proposals from the countries of the region. A railway, for example, from Uzbekistan, from Mazar-e-Sharif to Peshawar to connect with the Pakistani railway for their exports that will cut from 26 days that now it takes for their product to reach southern Pakistan or even middle Pakistan, to 26 hours. From days to hours. And we have expressed our willingness as well as others to invest in infrastructure projects to facilitate the vision that President Ghani has had and the Pakistani leaders say they have for regional connectivity, regional trade, regional development, and who knows, even perhaps more. Without it being necessarily directed against anybody else, but this would be for the good of the region and its people.
Hadley: Let me follow up on that with this question from our audience. What role do you think the donor funding conference now scheduled for November can play in supporting the peace process? Are America’s allies committed to funding implementation of a peace process and the kinds of projects you just described? And would you support bringing the Taliban to join that meeting in November?
Ambassador Khalilzad: It is very surprising to me, Steve, that there is so much interest still in Afghanistan. It’s fascinating. If you and I, when we were working under your leadership together thought 20 years later there would be the kind of positive engagement towards Afghanistan, I would have been certainly surprised. So there is competition for hosting these meetings. Countries from near and far are willing to facilitate and they participated — all those who were invited except one showed up for the opening ceremony of the talks. The Security Council issued a statement of support. And there is a November meeting on the financial commitment to Afghanistan that will be well attended. The Finns are hosting but we’re all there. And I think even an indication for people to do more for Afghanistan if there was a peace agreement that consolidated.
So I am very hopeful and it’s really in the hands of the Afghan leaders right now to take advantage. That’s another opportunity. It is not only an opportunity for violence reduction, an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past and come to a formula for the country. An opportunity because of the region, but there’s an opportunity also for sustained support from the international community.
On the Taliban, I think that’s an issue that will be left to discuss with them. I have nothing to say on that at the present time.
Hadley: Let me ask you a quick follow up on that. Do those countries that are participating in the November conference, even countries like China and Russia and others, do they agree with Secretary Pompeo’s remarks at the opening center of the conference that the kinds of international assistance that should be given to Afghanistan post-peace should be conditioned on the outcome of those talks with respect to the rights of women, minorities, rule of law, human rights, anti-corruption, those sorts of things? Does that reflect an international consensus? Or is that simply a more limited U.S. position?
Ambassador Khalilzad: All the major donors are in agreement on that. We’ve been working on this issue and one of the parallel meetings will likely be, that’s under consideration, on development assistance. And we’ve done a lot of work with all the major donors and they are all on the same page.
Hadley: Thank you.
Several questions have been raised about protections of women’s rights. Were specific conditions to protect women’s rights presented to the Taliban during the U.S.-Taliban negotiations? And if so, what was their response? And how does the lack of women on the Taliban negotiations team reflect on this issue of commitments and particularly their commitments to women’s rights if they don’t have women on their negotiating team? And how can Afghan women have a greater voice in those talks? And will the side meetings you mentioned include women’s voice beyond those just on the Afghan Republic’s negotiating team?
Ambassador Khalilzad: I believe talking to my colleagues who are actively involved in thinking about those parallel events, yes. I am sure that is what they are thinking, of having women, and women in addition to the four that are part of the team.
In the history of Afghanistan, of course this issue of women’s rights has been, a lot of progress has made like in the 1960s or during the King Amanullah period in the 1920s. But there has been also a period of darkness with regards to progress on this issue.
As I said, the Taliban have not been obviously known as people who are advocating women’s rights and women’s participation, and there are other groups in Afghanistan including some as part of the Republic who are not known for their advocacy of women’s rights, but there has been a lot of progress that has been made.
Afghanistan today is not the same Afghanistan as prior to American engagement or American encounter with Afghanistan, as I like to call it. There has been an enduring transformation on so many levels that I tell the Taliban that they need to familiarize themselves with this new Afghanistan.
This will be obviously an important issue and there may be differences. And what’s different this time in my judgment at least, if I’m not mistaken, that women themselves are participating in the discussion. Very capable women who speak eloquently for their rights, for the importance of it, and certainly there is much more international focus like never before on a peace process dealing with Afghanistan like it is today, the status of women, the future, the gains that have been made.
But women also want peace, besides their rights. They are mothers. They are wives. They are soldiers themselves in the security forces. And among the advocates for peace, for ending violence, women are very present. Sometimes we think of women just in relation to one issue, but in fact women have views and attitudes towards peace. That’s why when I say some 80-85 percent in recent polls support this peace process, these negotiations, certainly that includes women as well.
Hadley: Ambassador, we’re running out of time. I’m going to ask you one quick last question and then we’ll be done.
What kind of relationship do you envision between the United States and an Afghan government that includes the Taliban if the negotiations succeed and if that is the outcome of those negotiations. Would the United States have a problem dealing with such a government?
Ambassador Khalilzad: Of course the objective of the negotiations is to have an inclusive government in Afghanistan that has broad support, and given the role of the Taliban in Afghanistan that means that they would be involved in that process. And the other Afghans, the Republic Afghans including President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah and others say the Taliban have to be part of the government. Otherwise peace cannot come to Afghanistan.
Now with regard to our objective, we want to have an enduring partnership with future Afghanistan on counterterrorism and cooperation with it. And we also would like to provide and be able to provide assistance of other relations, diplomatic, political and developmental relations with Afghanistan and the region.
As to the question of dealing with the Taliban as part of that, given the current rules and laws we would have to look at all of those to be able to do that, and it’s not only with regard to economic and financial and developmental support but also even on security issues as to what we can do, what we would be able to do. We face that issue right now even on the issue of counterterrorism.
So we have challenges in terms of adjustments that we would make, as the Talibs and the other Afghans have issues with regard to the adjustments that they would have to make. I think there is a way to work them. It wouldn’t be without challenges or difficulties but given how far we have come, given all the challenges that have existed and we have managed to find a way to either overcome them or find a work-around, I have great confidence in our ability to be able to find formulas, ways to be able to meet our national objectives, to be a good partner with Afghanistan and to leave a good legacy behind from the sacrifices, the commitments, the expenditure of blood and treasure that has been made by the United States and our partners in Afghanistan.
We could have withdrawn. We didn’t need anyone’s permission to leave, if that’s all that we wanted. The purpose of diplomacy has been, and the reason for making this conditional has been to leave a good legacy behind, to help Afghans end their tragedy. Many Americans who have served there are fond of Afghans. They have developed — I’m always very surprised to talk to soldiers on the street, sometimes some ex-soldiers stop me on the street, they recognize me and tell their stories of why they want something good to be left behind, but the war to end, soldiers to come home, but also for Afghans to be in a better place than they have been because of the wars in their country.
Thank you very much, Steve. I appreciate that you have taken the time and I look forward to our conversations. As well as thanks to the audience, the virtual audience, and wish everybody good health.
Hadley: Thank you, Ambassador, for being with us. We appreciate it so much. We are out of time.
I want to thank the audience for joining us and for the good questions. That concludes our session. Thanks so much. Good luck, Ambassador, on the work that lies ahead for you.
Ambassador Khalilzad: Thank you.
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