The war ended on Mr Khalilzad’s watch, but not on the terms he had hoped for. Instead of the power-sharing government he imagined could curb the Taliban, the militant group has taken total control of the country, which is now facing economic collapse and famine.
“Zal comes out of this as quite a tragic figure,” said Eric S. Edelman, a former national security official who worked with Mr. Khalilzad under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
As colleagues at the Pentagon in the late 1980s, Mr. Edelman and Mr. Khalilzad helped drive American politics in support of mujahedin fighters in Afghanistan who resisted Soviet occupiers. Under the Bush administration, they again supported resistance fighters, this time fighting the Taliban when the United States invaded in 2001.
“He did a lot to create a modern, post-Taliban independent state,” he said. Edelman about Mr. Khalilzad. “And then in part to be the servant behind its death – I do not know how you can see it as anything but tragic.”
Sir. Khalilzad had been out of government for years when, during the 2016 presidential campaign, he introduced Mr. Trump to a foreign policy speech that hosted a think tank to which he was affiliated. A lifelong Republican, Mr. Khalilzad did not support Mr. Trump, noting his “provocative views.” But the introduction gave him good will in Mr. Trumps inner circle.
Then, in 2018, Mr Khalilzad told officials in the Trump administration that Taliban representatives were interested in talking about a peace deal. In September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appointed him envoy for “the unique mission” of “developing opportunities to persuade Afghans and the Taliban to achieve reconciliation.”
In practice, however, the negotiations focused on the terms of the US withdrawal that Mr Trump was seeking. Eighteen months and hundreds of hours of barter in Doha, Qatar’s capital, produced an agreement in February 2020, after which the United States agreed to withdraw all its troops and the Taliban promised to stop attacks on US forces and never house terrorist groups.