Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

Yesterday, DCFR had the privilege of hosting the former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad. He is a unique diplomat with an extremely sophisticated understanding of some of the toughest, roughest foreign policy challenges on the globe — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and the Middle East. 

One insight gleaned from his comments —without a focused, coherent Pakistan strategy from the U.S. government, Afghanistan will face security challenges that could reverse the gains made by the Afghan government and U.S. involvement, at great cost. The current U.S.-Pakistan frenemy relationship will not serve either Pakistan, the U.S., or the region in the long run, and could spiral downward so negatively the consequences and scenarios would be untenable.

Khalilzad’s origins as an ethnic Pashtun, born in Mazar-i-Sharif in Northern Afghanistan, have served U.S. interests well in diplomatic dealings. His advice is sought by a multitude of global stakeholders, such as multinationals, heads of state, and even political candidates in the run up to the U.S. 2012 presidential elections. Aside from his in-depth knowledge of the countries surrounding Afghanistan and the Middle East, he is quintessentially a practiced security expert. Prior to serving in the Bush administration beginning in 2001, Ambassador Khalilzad spent two decades in various senior academic and government roles analyzing geo-political relationships, crafting political and security strategies, and projecting what U.S. leadership means for global order. In his formal role as U.S. diplomat, he implemented these ideas and continues to do so behind the scenes.

To arrive at some forward movement on the Afghan development front, the U.S. needs to do a better job at promoting commerce and development in Afghanistan. The Chinese are already on the Afghan’s economic radar, winning copper concessions and building economic ties via their unencumbered state-owned enterprises. More than ever, Afghanistan could progress with the help of U.S. firms demonstrating their management and governance practices and creating markets, with the benefits accruing to generations of Afghans and their families. If there is to be a ‘New Silk Road’ through Afghanistan, the U.S. has to find better ways to enter the highway. This idea has emerged recently, not a single thoroughfare as the name suggests from history, but as a route that would be an international network of economic activity and transit. Running through Central Asia, this modern silk road would “boost economic connectivity across India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

We will be producing an issues brief based on an interview with Ambassador Khalilzad soon. Topics include Pakistan-U.S. relations, Afghanistan security and development, terrorist threats, and U.S. policy imperatives in these countries and the region at large.

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