US House panel subpoenas Trump's Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad

Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Engel says panel wants answers on Afghan peace plan now that US-Taliban talks are dead.

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    Zalmay Khalilzad, the US peace envoy who lead the peace talks with the Taliban [Sorin Furcoi/ Al Jazeera]
    Zalmay Khalilzad, the US peace envoy who lead the peace talks with the Taliban [Sorin Furcoi/ Al Jazeera]

    Washington, DC - The House Foreign Affairs Committee said on Thursday it issued a subpoena to the Trump administration's special Afghanistan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, demanding he appear before the panel next week to explain the failure of the US-Taliban talks.

    "For months, we haven't been able to get answers on the Afghanistan peace plan, and now the president is saying the plan is dead," Representative Eliot Engel, Democrat chairman of the committee, said in a statement. Engel said the State Department had ignored requests from the committee to arrange briefings with Khalilzad in February and April, as well as at other times during the year.

    "We need to hear directly from the administration's point person on Afghanistan to understand how this process went off the rails," Engel said.

    Engel said Khalilzad's refusal to appear before the committee appears to be part of a wider pattern of stonewalling of the Democrat-led committees in the House.

    "We are not going to just sit back and be quiet. We will make a lot of noise about it," Engel had told reporters earlier in the week.

    The subpoena demands Khalilzad appear before the committee on the morning of September 19.

    The State Department did not immediately comment on the House panel's move.

    Talks are 'dead'

    The subpoena follows Trump's abrupt move on Sunday to cancel secret meetings with the Taliban and Afghan president at Camp David outside Washington, DC. Trump cited a Taliban attack in Kabul that killed at least 12, including a US soldier. He later declared the US-Taliban talks "dead".

    A Taliban spokesman recently told Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, that Trump's cancellation of the negotiations had surprised Taliban leaders.  

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    "It was astonishing for us because we had already concluded the peace agreement with the American negotiating team," Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said.

    Khalilzad was appointed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as special representative for Afghanistan in September 2018. He has held nine rounds of talks - which are aimed at ending the 18 years of war in Afghanistan - with Taliban leaders before reaching a framework agreement in principle earlier this month.

    Following Trump's announcement last weekend, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's office said peace would only be possible if the Taliban stopped launching attacks and held direct talks with the government.

    "Real peace will come when the Taliban agree to a ceasefire," it said.

    Meanwhile, in contrast with the Democrat-led House panel, James Risch, chairman of the Republican-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Khalilzad and other State Department officials have kept his panel well informed on the talks. 

    "Most people on the committee have good access to Khalilzad and the other people that are involved in that," Risch told Al Jazeera. "They've done well both at the State Department and through the White House in keeping us up to date as to where they were."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News