Zalmay Khalilzad planning to stand for Afghan Presidency: report

LONDON, Jan 29 (APP)- A report in the Tuesday edition of British daily ‘The Guardian’ has claimed that senior British Foreign Office officials believe the Afghan-born US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is planning to stand for the presidency of Afghanistan and played a complex role in advising the current president, Hamid Karzai, to block the appointment of Lord Ashdown as the UN envoy to the country.

Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader who became the international community’s high representative in Bosnia, withdrew his application for the role on Sunday in the face of Afghan objections, leaving western policy in chaos.

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America and Britain had been lining Ashdown up for a senior role since October, and believed they had the support of the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, and Karzai, the report said.

The paper said high-level British sources believe that Karzai changed his position as he faced mounting objections from Pashto-speaking warlords and after advice given to him by Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Khalilzad is himself a Pashtun.

British sources suggested that contrary to the official US position, Khalilzad had been warning Karzai that Ashdown was an interventionist figure and would weaken his authority still further.

The paper further said Khalilzad’s office at the UN last night denied he had any interest in standing for the Afghan presidency and rejected the suggestion he had undermined Lord Ashdown as a candidate for the UN special envoy’s job saying that Khalilzad had publicly ruled out running for president in Afghanistan and termed it as “ an old rumour that has been proved erroneous”.

The Guardian said Ashdown had spoken to Karzai about the appointment and agreed his job description, which would have been to coordinate the roles of NATO, the UN and the EU. But in the past week Karzai started to turn against the British, accusing their forces of losing their grip in the south of the country in the fight against the Taliban, and then making it clear to Gordon Brown and Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, that he would not support Ashdown’s appointment.

Some British officials, according to the daily, said Karzai’s decision to withstand the clear US demand for Ashdown will strengthen him with some Pashtun tribes in the short term. No one in British circles is accusing Karzai of corruption, but with the loss of support of the former Northern Alliance, the Afghan president is increasingly dependent on drug traffickers and warlords to maintain his political base.

British sources told the daily that they have no idea at this stage how they will

repair the damage caused by the Afghan president’s sudden change of heart, but without a clear alternative authority figure to Karzai, the west will have to soldier on with the current president for at least another year.