Zalmay Khalilzad is a most sought-after man. On 31 December 2001, just nine days after the US-supported Afghan interim government of Hamid Karzai took office in Kabul, the White House appointed the Afghan-American as Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan.
Five months later National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice appointed him as Special Assistant to Bush and Senior Director for Gulf, Southwest Asia and Other Regional Issues at the National Security Council.
US Special Envoy to the
Iraqi opposition Zalmay
Khalilzad’s most recent appointment has been the White House’s special envoy to the Iraqi opposition to help the different groups hammer out their future in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
Some observers believe Khalilzad's stints in Washington, are part of an older US agenda aimed at securing a grip on the natural gas and oil treasures of Iraq and Central Asia.
Khalilzad, an ethnic Pashtun, was born in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. He first visited the United States as an exchange student through the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker charitable organisation. He returned to Afghanistan to complete his high school education and earned an undergraduate degree from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.
During these years Khalilzad was reportedly pro-Palestinian. Returning to the United States in 1979, he earned his PhD from the University of Chicago, where, according to the New York Times News Service, "he became the protégé of a famous hard-line strategic thinker” and his foreign policy views took on a hawkish outlook.
Between 1979 and 1989 Khalilzad was an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University where he worked with former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski under ex-president Jimmy Carter. He was executive director of Friends of Afghanistan, a support group for the anti-Soviet mujahideen. Elements of the mujahideen are groups that Washington today includes in its war against terror, including Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.
In 1984 Khalilzad joined the US State Department on a one-year fellowship. But his background earned him a permanent position on the State Department’s Policy Planning Council during the Reagan administration's proxy war against the Soviet Union in Khalilzad's homeland.
Between 1985-1989 Khalilzad served as Special Advisor to the Under Secretary of State where he was introduced to Paul Wolfowitz, the current US Deputy Defence Secretary. During this time Khalilzad advised on the Soviet and Iran-Iraq war.
Khalilzad lobbied to provide arms for the mujahideen, including hand-held Stinger anti-aircraft missiles which played a key role in the anti-Soviet war. The Taliban would later use the Stinger missiles against US forces.
Khalilzad with Kurdish leader
Khalilzad was also one of Washington's earlier weapons against Saddam Hussein. In 1998, along with Wolfowitz, he signed an open letter to then US President Bill Clinton for the overthrow of Hussein.
In 1991 Khalilzad, serving as Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of State for Defence for Policy Planning, also worked closely with Wolfowitz.
During the Clinton years Khalilzad wrote for US military think tank RAND. In October 1996 he wrote, "the Taliban does not practise the anti-US style fundamentalism practiced by Iran.”
Khalilzad was also a consultant for California-based oil company UNOCAL, struggling to secure the Taliban's support for a pipeline running from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan during the 1990s.
A 1998 Associated Press article quoted Philip Smith, an Afghan analyst, as saying..."Khalilzad, along with other oil consultants working on envisioned pipeline projects in Afghanistan, plus some senior State Department and CIA officials, advocated a higher level of US engagement with the Taliban.”
After George W. Bush was elected in 2001 Vice President Dick Cheney, who knew Khalilzad from the early 1990s, chose him to head the Bush-Cheney transitional team for the Department of Defence. He also served Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld.
Khalilzad has changed his tune so often that analyst Anatoly Lievan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace once said, “If he was in private business rather than government he would have been sacked a long time ago.”