Shouldn’t Do Wishful Thinking About Peace, But Can’t Rule Out Possibility: Khalilzad

Kabul: In a grilling session with the US Congress, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, on Friday said that the criticism regarding the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is justified.

“We’ll have to see what the Taliban does. We have to be prepared for the decisions that they make with regard to those choices that they face. We can’t be driven by wishful thinking that they will make the right choice that we would like, but at the same time we shouldn’t close the door to that possibility,” Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad was questioned by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, during a hearing to examine President Biden’s decision to withdraw all remaining US military forces by September 2021 and the implications of the withdrawal on US national security and future engagement in Afghanistan.

Lynch stated that even though he wants to see an end to the war in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan still comes with significant consequences to national security and there are questions about the long-term viability of the Afghan state, and the future stability of the region—especially in the absence of an intra-Afghan peace agreement. “As Members of the Oversight Committee, it is our job to ensure that those consequences are recognized and those risks are minimized to the greatest extent possible, while continuing to promote the responsible stewardship of US taxpayer resources,” he said.

On whether US has a “Plan B” should the Taliban overtake the Afghan government, Khalilzad said that “the plan is not finished.” He further testified that the Biden administration is “working very hard to think about alternative futures for Afghanistan and what could happen, and how we would operate, carry out the mission that the President and Congress decides for Afghanistan and how the mission could be carried out and how we can spend the resources of the taxpayers as intended.”

In fact, Khalilzad also said that US’ ability to monitor terrorist threats in Afghanistan will “diminish” following the withdrawal, however, he added, “Our monitoring capability will diminish, our strike capability will also be affected, but given the lower level of terrorist threat, we would be in a position to monitor and respond adequately when our forces are out of Afghanistan.”

In response to questioning by Rep. Hank Johnson, Khalilzad testified that he has discussed with Afghanistan’s neighbors “the need for enhanced cooperation for monitoring the situation in Afghanistan, but added that agreements to enable US “over the horizon” counterterrorism capabilities are “a work in progress.”

He also testified that the United States “will do our best in terms of oversight” and intends to “maintain a robust embassy and to protect that embassy security so that we can perform that responsibility, oversight of money spent as intended, going forward.”

Lynch also referenced to reports from officials and women’s groups on the ground in Afghanistan and said that opportunities for Afghan women were “extremely fragile.” He added there was “great fear” in many communities about what the country’s future. “I’m trying to get reassurance that we’re thinking about—at least acknowledging—the dilemma we face and that we’re taking every reasonable precaution to prevent the worst of outcomes from occurring,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has also expressed concern over the continuing violence, in particular the loss of civilian lives in the country, and called for an immediate end to the “killing of civilians”.

According to the commission, in the last two days alone, 16 civilians have been killed and six others wounded in landmine and shelling in Helmand and Ghor provinces.

The commission said women and children were among the victims and stated, “The killing of civilians must stop. How long will the Afghan people pay for the war with their lives, property and vital interests? The people are the main owners of this land and always call for an end to violence and the establishment of a permanent ceasefire.”

The commission also blamed Taliban bombings on civilian casualties, adding that they had repeatedly called on the group to “stop this tactic of war, given that it has no segregation capacity.”

The statement added, “We urge the international community to adhere to the rules of engagement. Indifference to civilian casualties, property damage and psychological trauma of the war and failure to deal seriously with the perpetrators has led to lower crime costs in Afghanistan and impunity.”

The commission stressed that justice must be done for the perpetrators and that the “perpetrators” must be held accountable before the law and their victims and survivors.

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