Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post advised the White House a few weeks ago to "page" former Bush administration ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad because his "healing powers" could restore Afghan President Hamid Karzai's soundness of mind - a suggestion more insane than Karzai himself.
Before she penned her misguided diatribe, Ms. Parker should have paged Khalil Nouri, an Afghan foreign policy expert, former DOD contractor and someone very familiar with Mr. Khalilzad's less-than-stellar diplomatic performance. Well, I dialed up Mr. Nouri after reading an article he wrote in Veterans Today entitled: Mr. Khalilzad, Why Should the White House Page You?, which illustrates how Khalilzad is not the anecdote to the Karzai problem - he is the root cause of it.
Mr. Khalilzad has a shocking history of supporting Islamic fundamentalists, made more astonishing by the fact his resume would make most neoconservatives jealous. During the 80s he served war hawk Paul Wolfowitz at the State Department, led the Bush/Cheney transition team in 2001 and subsequently- to round out the "who's who of neocons" - worked as a counselor for Don Rumsfeld.
By combining a peculiar affinity for Islamo-fascism with poor judgment, Khalilzad has left a clear track record of extremely damaging foreign policy decisions. As a Director at Rand Corporation and a paid consultant for the UNOCAL trans-Afghanistan pipeline, he lobbied the Clinton administration to recognize the Taliban. In 1999, in the very publication Ms. Parker now writes for, Khalilzad was quoted as saying: "In the rural areas, what the Taliban is seeking to impose is not very different than what the norm has been."
In his piece, Nouri exposes Khalilzad's primal political instincts and rationale for strong-arming Karzai into office - a man deemed by many Afghans to be wholly incompetent and an opportunist of the worst sort. As if speaking directly to Mr. Khalilzad, Nouri wrote:
A level that initially began with you as an "envoy" of the Bush-Cheney administration; and as always, your charming and skillfully understated powers of persuasion allowed you to intriguingly and deliberately engineer a path to become the backroom powerbroker who's scheming implanted your Unocal pal, Mr. Hamid Karzai, as the head of Afghanistan's transitional government at the emergency "Loya Jirgah" on June 10, 2002.
Not to mention, Karzai is a product of a circle of family, friends and associates filled to the brim with warlords, drug traffickers and criminals. Khalilzad went further than propping up the unqualified Karzai, he helped determine cabinet appointments and influenced policy. According to Nouri:
You ensured that the Northern Alliance and other warlords were legitimized as cabinet ministers, court officials, and regional governors, and that their wish for a religious-based government was enshrined into the Afghan Constitution. But, by giving them positions of power, you ignored the wishes of the majority of Afghans, who would rather see those criminals on trial. Additionally, it was your idea for the Karzai government to offer amnesty to the Taliban--a doctrine that you called, "co-optation in exchange for cooperation." Is it working sir?
The impact of Khalilzad's geopolitical genius doesn't stop there because Afghanistan is still reaping what Zalmay sowed during the war against the Soviets in the 80s, when he favored Islamic fundamentalists like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now one of America's most wanted Afghan terrorists, over Muslim traditionalists. Years later, Khalilzad, beholden to this same lot, has placed these extremists into government positions, thus alienating moderate tribal leaders whose support is sorely needed today.
To top that, Zalmay then advised Karzai "the uniter" to block certain non-Pashtun ethnicities from gaining any government appointments. According to Arthur Kent, a source close to the Afghan President said: "He (Zalmay Khalilzad) encouraged Karzai to rid his government of Tajiks, and except for a few positions, he has succeeded. Ethnic fascism is not too strong a label for Zal and his friends."
Most tragically, Khalilzad backed Pakistan's campaign to eliminate Afghan hero Ahmed Shah Massoud, an ethnic Tajik who helped stop the Taliban from seizing all of Afghanistan and whose dire admonishments about the emerging specter of al-Qaeda fell on deaf ears in the U.S.
Khalil Nouri is not just some critic throwing stones from a safe position on the sidelines. Mr. Nouri is attempting to reverse the ravages inflicted on Afghanistan by Mr. Khalilzad and other U.S. policymakers through an organization he founded with entrepreneur Terry Green called the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), which is focused on developing non-military solutions to the dilemma in Afghanistan.
The coalition has an impressive leadership team, including Khalil's brother, Hasan Nouri, the organization's Chairman. Hasan is a recipient of the Herbert Hoover Medal, awarded to engineers for outstanding humanitarian effort, placing him in a select group with previous winners such as Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter. Point being - they know what they're doing and they don't just sit around publishing white papers.
The NWSC's goal is to rebuild Afghan society by redirecting funds currently feeding a corrupt centralized government in Kabul to direct investment at the tribal level for economic development. It's a bottom-up strategy that starts with the tribe, which is the most critical political, social, economic and cultural component of Afghan society.
The group plans to build on existing mechanisms in Afghanistan such as the "jirgah" - an assembly of tribal elders who gather to make critical decisions that impact each region. The NWSC's mission statement is both compelling and audacious in its scope:
Afghanistan has no stock exchange, nor does it have an investment fund. We are structuring "Biz Jirgah to Biz Jirgah" as an "Afghan Investment Fund Management Group" that will raise funds and create/review sustainable projects. We then manage, control, dispense and monitor those funds to produce businesses and jobs in Afghanistan (with training and oversight) for all, including the average person on the street. Our goal is to work directly with the people of Afghanistan in the rebuilding of their own nation.
Rather than spend billions of dollars to insulate American advisers from the Afghan people with expensive private security firms, we can spend just millions by training Afghans to take on new roles in their own economic and social development. By setting up training camps and bringing in Afghans and teaching them how to build their own nation through the "Biz Jirgah to Biz Jirgah" philosophy; we can save billions.
In closing, I'd like to provide White House decision-makers with some better advice than that offered by Ms. Parker: Page Khalil Nouri! If you cannot, for whatever reason, we implore you to do at least one thing: avoid Zalmay Khalilzad like the plague.
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