When the Washington Post reported last week that Zalmay Khalilzad, the American representative at the United Nations, was considering running for president of Afghanistan, Khalilzad publicly denied the story. But that hasn’t stopped some of his friends both in Washington and in Afghanistan from going forward with a plan to draft him to succeed President Hamid Karzai, whose term ends in October of next year. A Khalilzad-for-president committee is about to be formed in the United States to advance his candidacy, according to a well-informed source.
The forceful, Afghan-born envoy played a key role in shaping post-invasion Afghanistan. At the Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan in 2001, he is reliably believed to have more or less produced Karzai like a rabbit out of a hat as the Bush administration’s choice for interim leader and eventual president. A number of prominent Afghans at the conference were advocating the restoration of a constitutional monarchy with the still highly respected exiled king restored to the throne, though not as hereditary monarch.
Subsequently, Khalilzad was a very influential U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Later, while serving as ambassador in Baghdad, he continued to dispense advice to Karzai in almost daily phone calls. For that reason alone, it seems fitting that he should inherit Karzai’s decidedly mixed legacy. But the source says Khalilzad’s supporters — even some of those who disagreed with his backing of Karzai — believe that their man has the ability, strength of will, and understanding of his native country to pull it from the brink.
A thoroughgoing Westerner, Khalilzad is likely to dispense with the green curtain in which Karzai habitually swathes himself.
The above is an excerpt from this week’s Corridors of Power, a weekly column written by WPR Editor-at-Large Roland Flamini that features notable news items from the world of diplomacy and international relations. Click here to browse past editions of Corridors.