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Secret Annexes, Backroom Deals: Can Zalmay Khalilzad Deliver Afghan Peace for Trump?

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The best hope for an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan may lie in a sumptuous conference room in Doha’s Diplomatic Club in Qatar. But there may be only one person who knows whether a paper peace deal negotiated there will translate into actual peace on the ground in the long-suffering country 1,000 miles to the northwest: U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

For more than a year, Khalilzad has worked to end America’s fight with the Taliban, using the club and nearby five-star hotels as a kind of ad hoc headquarters. Now Khalilzad is confident he’s on the brink of inking an elusive peace deal between Washington and the militants that sheltered Al Qaeda terrorists while they plotted the attacks of 9/11. He’s so confident, in fact, that his team is already sizing up venues for a signing ceremony, according to Afghan and western officials.

If Khalilzad succeeds, he will deliver a pivotal election-year victory for his boss, President Donald Trump, who has long pledged to end America’s involvement in “endless wars.” If he fails, the U.S. will remain mired in the longest war in American history, a conflict that has killed more than 3,500 U.S. and NATO troops, cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $900 billion, and left thousands of Afghans dead and millions more displaced.

The difference hangs on the convoluted details Khalilzad has hammered out over months shuttling between Doha, Kabul, and Washington, drinking endless cups of tea and flattering, cajoling, and lecturing top players on all side.

At its heart, Khalilzad’s deal offers this basic bargain: the Taliban will reduce its violent attacks on U.S. and Afghan troops, and the U.S. will withdraw much its forces from the country. The Taliban has agreed to a seven-day “reduction in violence” to show that it’s serious. But, crucially, its leaders will not agree in public to the U.S. demand to keep counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.

To get past that roadblock, Khalilzad has come up with a rickety workaround. The deal contains secret annexes, according to three people familiar with details of the current draft. The first is an agreement for U.S. counterterrorism forces to stay in the country. The second is a Taliban denouncement of terrorism and violent extremism. The third annex contains a mechanism to monitor whether all sides are honoring the semi-truce while talks between warring Afghan parties proceed, according to two of the sources, and the last addresses how the CIA will operate in future in Taliban-controlled areas.

Details of the secret annexes were provided in writing to TIME by one of the sources, who insisted on anonymity to disclose details of the confidential talks. A U.S. lawmaker and two Afghan officials confirmed that a long-term counterterrorism force numbering 8,600 U.S. troops, down from the current 13,000, is part of the deal. The State Department and Khalilzad’s office declined to comment, as did the CIA. Khalilzad declined to be interviewed for this article. A Taliban official insisted Thursday that the deal requires a full U.S. troop withdrawal and said that talk of secret annexes were just rumors.

The deal could be signed by the end of the month, according to U.S. and Afghan officials, if everyone stays on board. But a lot can happen in two weeks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo still has to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has never been a fan of Khalilzad’s plan. Taliban ground forces could catch wind that their leaders have covertly agreed to let some U.S. forces stay and launch a new, destabilizing attack. Or Trump could tap out a damaging tweet—and send his envoy back to the negotiating table.

For Afghanistan, where an entire generation has grown up during the war, the stakes couldn’t be higher. For Khalilzad, or “Zal,” has he’s widely known, it would be the deal of a lifetime. Even if peace doesn’t last, Khalilzad can say he has done his part, cementing his status as a dealmaker by delivering an agreement once thought to be impossible.

ZAL HAS COME CLOSE BEFORE. Last September, a U.S.-Taliban deal seemed imminent when it was derailed by a Taliban bombing in Kabul that killed several people, including a U.S. soldier. Trump abruptly called off peace talks in an on-brand tweetstorm on Sept. 7, putting Khalilzad’s coveted deal on ice for months. The talks resumed in December, and this week officials say the deal is again ready to sign—if the Taliban can stop its members from attacking U.S. and Afghan forces for a full seven days.

That’s a big ‘if.’ The Taliban has had trouble in the past maintaining control among its factions, some of which may be disappointed by a deal that fails to deliver a total U.S. withdrawal. Two U.S. soldiers were killed on Saturday when an assailant dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire with a machine gun, bringing to six the number of service members killed in Afghanistan this year. The Taliban pointedly did not take responsibility for killing the troops on Saturday.

The secret annexes could also complicate the deal’s ability to deliver lasting peace. The Taliban rank and file will expect to see all American troops packing up and leaving, but it will become apparent by year’s end that U.S. forces are not going down to zero. “If the Taliban make these agreements known, they will melt down, and fade away,” one of the sources briefed on the draft said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive deal. ”So they keep it secret.”

In some ways the rickety deal is classic Khalilzad. Resembling a gracefully aging Hollywood character actor, the nearly six-foot-tall 69-year-old favors tailored dark suits and slicked-back grey hair. Afghan-born and U.S. educated, Khalilzad served as one of the first U.S. ambassadors to post-9/11 Afghanistan.

Khalilzad’s allies say he is a wily and skillful negotiator who brings a rare combination of regional experience, ambition, charisma and healthy cynicism to the job—and perhaps a measure of bruised pride that his decades of diplomacy have failed to deliver prosperity or stability to the country of his birth.

But his detractors in Washington worry that he’ll say anything to anybody to get them to sign off on a deal for Trump, whether or not it’s built to last. In Kabul, he’s equally controversial, seen by some as a potential political competitor with ambitions to run for the Afghan presidency. As a Sunni Muslim from the Pashtun tribe, which most Taliban members also belong to, many non-Pashtun Afghans simply don’t trust him.

Khalilzad was born in 1951 in a modest neighborhood in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, then a bustling hub of politics and commerce for “Afghan Turkistan” as the area close to the Uzbek border was known. His father was a mid-level civil servant, and his mother married very young and gave birth to 13 children. Only seven survived, including Zal, who got his first taste of life outside Afghanistan as a high school exchange student in California, where he perfected his English practicing in front of the mirror, according to his memoir, The Envoy. He was pulled into the neocon movement in the U.S. while earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1979, and has since held senior positions in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

After the 9/11 attacks prompted the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that drove the Taliban from power for hosting al-Qaeda, Khalilzad played a key role in selecting Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s next leader. At the 2001 Bonn International Conference, Afghan delegates had first chosen a respected official from the Afghan king’s rule, seen by many as a golden age of equality among the country’s Pashtun, Tajik and other tribes, according to a western official and a former Afghan official who took part.

After 48 hours of arm twisting, Khalilzad convinced the delegates the leader had to be Pashtun—Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group—to unite the country. Specifically, it had to be Karzai. “He gets his way,” griped one Western official who had backed the former royal official as more likely to unite the country.

KHALILZAD HAS TRUMP’S FULL SUPPORT to close this deal, Zal’s allies say. He was one of the few prominent Bush Republicans who endorsed Trump’s run for the highest office early on, by introducing him at a 2016 event sponsored by the publication National Interest. At the time, others he’d served with were signing “Never Trump” letters, a former senior U.S. official recalls, marking it as Khalilzad’s early gambit for a senior role on Team Trump.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended Khalilzad for the peace envoy job, telling the President that he knew the players and had pulled off tough negotiations before. “Zal sold himself to the President as the only guy who could negotiate with the Taliban because of his Afghan heritage, his deal making skills, and his relationships with powerful figures in the country,” says a former official who served in the country.

The talks commenced in early 2019, regularly held beneath the palatial arches of Doha’s dune-colored Diplomatic Club, overlooking the Persian Gulf. Zal convinced the Taliban to talk by agreeing to separate the U.S. peace talks from negotiations with Afghan government, which the Taliban considers to be invalid. The U.S. and Taliban would agree on the conditions for a ceasefire and troop withdrawal; the Afghan talks determining the future of Afghanistan would come later.

Even that deferral of a lasting peace deal required a questionable workaround. Khalilzad got the Taliban to talk with Afghan government officials only by arranging the creation of an intra-Afghan committee of community leaders with whom formal talks would be held. Afghan government officials would attend those talks only in a personal capacity.

Afghan officials have complained the indirect structure shows the U.S. envoy bending over backwards for the militants, instead of demanding that they officially recognize the elected government of the Afghan Republic.

Ghani, the Afghan president, is biding his time, letting this chapter play out rather than play spoiler, one senior Afghan official says. For now, he has designated delegates to join the intra-Afghan committee talks to determine the shape of a future Afghan government, and what the Taliban’s role in it will be. Ghani, and most of the population according to recent polls by the Asia Foundation, want the country to remain a democracy. The Taliban have made no secret they want to return to being an “Emirate” where religious authorities have greater power.

In early conversations with Afghan delegates including women in Doha, the Taliban have said they would support women’s rights, allowing them to be educated and to work outside the home. But that hasn’t been the practice in some parts of Afghanistan now under their sway. Longtime Taliban watchers also doubt the group will follow through with a pledge made as part of the talks to break with Al Qaeda—the terrorist group is now literally family, with many members having married into Afghan tribes in the decades of fighting U.S. troops after 9/11.

Former senior CIA officer Douglas Wise, who served twice in Afghanistan, says the Taliban’s ultimate goal is to reclaim the power it held before the U.S. invasion that followed 9/11. “If you look at the Taliban’s strategic goals, it is to return to power, to expel the Western-imposed expatriate, Afghan-run government and to recreate the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,’” as the Taliban still describes itself. Wise, the former deputy chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, gives little credence to Taliban pledges to respect human and women’s rights. “That’s all BS. They will say anything to get us an agreement to get us to leave. Whatever it takes to get the Americans out.”

Ghani and his advisors evince similar skepticism. They believe the Taliban will have trouble maintaining a future “reduction of violence” during intra-Afghan talks. If violence breaks out, and if Ghani survives opposition challenges to the September election that narrowly gave him another five years in office, his government will abandon the talks and reach out to individual Taliban factions, offering one-off deals to divide and conquer the oft-squabbling tribes.

That would be just fine for Khalilzad and Trump, who could argue that failure of the intra-Afghan talks, or even a full return to Taliban control, would be on the Afghan government, not on Washington.

In the end, critics and admirers alike say that Zal is in it for Zal. That’s why those who trust him say he will deliver this week, with his eyes fixed on a diplomatic prize that could enshrine his name in the history books for bringing troops from his adopted country home. “Never forget,” said one U.S. official who knows Khalilzad well. “Zal is relentless.”

 





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Former Brazilian President Lula Says Bolsonaro Must Change Dismissive Coronavirus Response

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(SAO PAULO) — In home isolation just months after his release from jail, Brazil’s former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Wednesday that President Jair Bolsonaro needs to change his dismissive approach to the new coronavirus or risk being forced from office before the end of his term in December 2022.

The former president known as Lula said in an interview with The Associated Press that Bolsonaro’s defiance of calls for social distancing hamper the efforts of governors and mayors to contain the virus.

He also argued Brazil may need to print money to protect low-income workers and keep people at home, a proposal sure to raise concern in a country with a history of hyperinflation and a sliding currency.

Da Silva, who governed between 2003 and 2010 at time when Brazil’s economy was strong, acknowledged that Bolsonaro is unlikely to heed growing opposition calls to step down and that there are not enough votes in congress for impeachment.

“Brazil’s society might not have the patience to wait until 2022, though,” da Silva said in a video call. “The same society that elected him has the right to remove this president when it notices he is not doing the things he promised. A president who has made mistakes and is creating a disaster. Bolsonaro, at this moment, is a disaster.”

Some people in several regions that voted massively for Bolsonaro in the 2018 elections are disillusioned with him, banging pots outside their homes in regular protests in the last two weeks. The president’s downplaying of the outbreak puts him at odds with almost all of the country’s 27 governors.

About 800 people have died from the COVID-19 disease in Brazil so far, and there are almost 16,000 confirmed cases, the most in Latin America. Brazil expects a peak in virus cases in late April or early May.

Last week, da Silva praised Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria, a former ally of the president, for imposing restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus. Bolsonaro, who frequently refers to da Silva as a “former inmate,” then said in a radio interview that he feels embarrassed when conservative politicians who have turned on him during the crisis receive praise from the leftist leader.

“I am just recognizing those who have done a more effective job,” da Silva said, adding that Doria will remain a political adversary.

Da Silva, a 74-year-old cancer survivor, is in isolation with his girlfriend and two dogs in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, since returning from a trip to Europe. He said he has not had any symptoms of the virus, nor been tested, and is meeting very few politicians. Most of his conversations are now online.

The former president said his 580 days in jail have helped him cope better with health recommendations to remain home. He is free while appealing corruption and money laundering convictions, which he says are politically motivated.

“I trained spiritually to live well. It is not easy to live in 15 square meters, seeing family once a week,” he said. “Now I am at home with my girlfriend Janja living with me. It is much better. I have space, people to talk to all the time.”

Bolsonaro has challenged recommendations of the World Health Organization and of his own health ministry on social distancing and other measures to curb the virus. He has repeatedly called COVID-19 “a little flu.”

Former president da Silva believes Brazil might need to print money to avoid the closing of businesses and social chaos. Brazil’s economy has suffered since 2015, with about 12 million people unemployed and three times as many people in the informal sector and working gigs.

“Those who need liquidity at this moment are poor people. They need it to buy soap, hand sanitizer. That’s who needs liquidity, not the Brazilian financial system,” he said. “To beat the coronavirus we need more state, more action from public authorities, from making new money and ensuring it reaches the hands of the people.”

Da Silva’s prescription runs counter to the ideology running through Bolsonaro’s administration, led by the University of Chicago-trained Economy Minister Paulo Guedes. After his appointment, he promised to shrink both the size and influence of the state through vast privatizations and by reining in state bank lending.

Since the outbreak, there has been some recognition of the need to provide financial relief. Among other things, state bank Caixa Economica Federal slashed interest rates on overdrafts and credit card installments, and the government allowed people to withdraw the equivalent of one month’s minimum wage from retirement accounts. It also approved monthly payments of $117 to help keep low-income workers afloat, which are expected to begin Thursday.

Still, it isn’t enough, da Silva said. He added that support for possibly printing money isn’t radical, but rather a necessary measure in a desperate circumstance.

“In a time of war you do things that aren’t normal because what matters is survival,” he said. “The coronavirus is an invisible enemy whose shape we know, but we still don’t know how to defeat it.”

Brazilian leftist politicians of different parties, including da Silva’s Workers’ Party, published a letter last week calling for Bolsonaro’s resignation over his management during the pandemic. The former president didn’t sign it, but said his views are clear.

“There’s no way out with Bolsonaro if he doesn’t change his behavior,” he said. “It would be much easier to apologize, admit he was wrong, tell the Brazilian people that he is sorry.”

____

Associated Press writer Maurico Savarese reported this story in Sao Paulo and AP writer David Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro.





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Rising European Cases Raise Doubts Over End to Lockdowns

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(Bloomberg) — A rise in new coronavirus infections in Germany, Italy and Spain is raising questions about the speed with which Europe can begin to relax its stringent restrictions on public life.Germany’s new coronavirus cases climbed the most in five days, according to figures Thursday from Johns Hopkins University. Italy said on Wednesday that it recorded 3,836 new coronavirus cases, the highest in three days, while in Spain they rose the most in four days. The U.K. reported a record number of coronavirus deaths as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who remains in intensive care after contracting the virus, showed signs of improvement.“The number of new cases compels us to say that we have to keep our guard high, and maintain the behavior recommended by the experts to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Angelo Borrelli, head of Italy’s civil protection agency. Italy plans to extend its nationwide lockdown by two weeks, daily La Stampa reported Thursday.The increase in cases complicates efforts by European leaders to try and gradually ease the strict rules that have been put in place to slow the march of the pathogen. The restrictions are having a devastating impact on economies across the region, and countries like Germany and Italy are starting to look at how they can begin to relax some of the curbs.The impact of the lockdowns is becoming starkly evident, even in the region’s biggest economies. German output is expected to slump almost 10% in the April-June period, the most since records for quarterly data began in 1970, while the French economy shrank the most since World War II in the first quarter.For Italy, the weakest of the continent’s large economies and the country where the restrictions have been in place the longest, the impact is set to be even more dramatic.Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government is preparing for a gradual exit from containment measures over the next several months, with some companies and shops possibly reopening as soon as early next week and other firms returning to work beginning May 4.Schools in Italy will likely remain closed until September. Subsequent steps to ease restrictions will depend on the spread of the disease remaining under control. The lockdown, in place since early March, has closed all non-essential activities and banned most movement.Decisive DaysIn Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to consult with regional premiers on April 15 on how soon and to what extent current restrictions can be eased.“We have had the first bits of positive news but it’s much too early to be over-confident or complacent,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Thursday on DLF radio. “The days over Easter will be decisive and only then will we know whether we can begin with any easing.”Economic and social life will not be fully ramped up right from the start but it will be a step-by-step process, Altmaier said. Otherwise, there is a danger restrictions will have to be reimposed if the virus spread intensifies again, he warned.The timing of the end to the unprecedented restrictions imposed on hundreds of millions of Europeans is pitting government authorities against public health officials, who say talk of an exit is too early as the hardest-hit nations are only beginning to slow the spread of the disease.After the emergence of new infections on Wednesday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned countries not to rush into lifting restrictions.“Based on the available evidence, it is currently too early to start lifting all community and physical distancing measures” in Europe, the agency said. “Sustained transmission of the virus is to be expected if current interventions are lifted too quickly.”The continent has been hit hard, suffering more than 65% of worldwide deaths and Spain, Italy, France and Germany trailing only the U.S. in infections.Careful MerkelMerkel has been careful to say that while her government is looking at options for re-opening, for now citizens should remain indoors. Restrictive measures in the country ban gatherings of more than two people, with exceptions for families.France, which has reported more than 112,000 infections, plans to extend confinement rules beyond April 15, and President Emmanuel Macron will address the nation on Monday for the third time since the virus outbreak.In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will ask parliament on Thursday for approval to extend a state of emergency through April 25. The country will return to normal life gradually after that, although experts are still working on how that process will work, Maria Jesus Montero, budget minister and government spokeswoman, told broadcaster Antena 3.The European Commission warned against hasty exits from mass isolation, saying that such measures can be reversed only when the disease’s spread has “significantly decreased for a sustained period of time.”“Any level of (gradual) relaxation of the confinement will unavoidably lead to a corresponding increase in new cases,” the Commission said, according to a draft of an internal memo seen by Bloomberg.(Updates with German figures starting in second paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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Former Brazilian President Lula Says Bolsonaro Must Change Dismissive Coronavirus Response

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(SAO PAULO) — In home isolation just months after his release from jail, Brazil’s former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Wednesday that President Jair Bolsonaro needs to change his dismissive approach to the new coronavirus or risk being forced from office before the end of his term in December 2022.

The former president known as Lula said in an interview with The Associated Press that Bolsonaro’s defiance of calls for social distancing hamper the efforts of governors and mayors to contain the virus.

He also argued Brazil may need to print money to protect low-income workers and keep people at home, a proposal sure to raise concern in a country with a history of hyperinflation and a sliding currency.

Da Silva, who governed between 2003 and 2010 at time when Brazil’s economy was strong, acknowledged that Bolsonaro is unlikely to heed growing opposition calls to step down and that there are not enough votes in congress for impeachment.

“Brazil’s society might not have the patience to wait until 2022, though,” da Silva said in a video call. “The same society that elected him has the right to remove this president when it notices he is not doing the things he promised. A president who has made mistakes and is creating a disaster. Bolsonaro, at this moment, is a disaster.”

Some people in several regions that voted massively for Bolsonaro in the 2018 elections are disillusioned with him, banging pots outside their homes in regular protests in the last two weeks. The president’s downplaying of the outbreak puts him at odds with almost all of the country’s 27 governors.

About 800 people have died from the COVID-19 disease in Brazil so far, and there are almost 16,000 confirmed cases, the most in Latin America. Brazil expects a peak in virus cases in late April or early May.

Last week, da Silva praised Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria, a former ally of the president, for imposing restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus. Bolsonaro, who frequently refers to da Silva as a “former inmate,” then said in a radio interview that he feels embarrassed when conservative politicians who have turned on him during the crisis receive praise from the leftist leader.

“I am just recognizing those who have done a more effective job,” da Silva said, adding that Doria will remain a political adversary.

Da Silva, a 74-year-old cancer survivor, is in isolation with his girlfriend and two dogs in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, since returning from a trip to Europe. He said he has not had any symptoms of the virus, nor been tested, and is meeting very few politicians. Most of his conversations are now online.

The former president said his 580 days in jail have helped him cope better with health recommendations to remain home. He is free while appealing corruption and money laundering convictions, which he says are politically motivated.

“I trained spiritually to live well. It is not easy to live in 15 square meters, seeing family once a week,” he said. “Now I am at home with my girlfriend Janja living with me. It is much better. I have space, people to talk to all the time.”

Bolsonaro has challenged recommendations of the World Health Organization and of his own health ministry on social distancing and other measures to curb the virus. He has repeatedly called COVID-19 “a little flu.”

Former president da Silva believes Brazil might need to print money to avoid the closing of businesses and social chaos. Brazil’s economy has suffered since 2015, with about 12 million people unemployed and three times as many people in the informal sector and working gigs.

“Those who need liquidity at this moment are poor people. They need it to buy soap, hand sanitizer. That’s who needs liquidity, not the Brazilian financial system,” he said. “To beat the coronavirus we need more state, more action from public authorities, from making new money and ensuring it reaches the hands of the people.”

Da Silva’s prescription runs counter to the ideology running through Bolsonaro’s administration, led by the University of Chicago-trained Economy Minister Paulo Guedes. After his appointment, he promised to shrink both the size and influence of the state through vast privatizations and by reining in state bank lending.

Since the outbreak, there has been some recognition of the need to provide financial relief. Among other things, state bank Caixa Economica Federal slashed interest rates on overdrafts and credit card installments, and the government allowed people to withdraw the equivalent of one month’s minimum wage from retirement accounts. It also approved monthly payments of $117 to help keep low-income workers afloat, which are expected to begin Thursday.

Still, it isn’t enough, da Silva said. He added that support for possibly printing money isn’t radical, but rather a necessary measure in a desperate circumstance.

“In a time of war you do things that aren’t normal because what matters is survival,” he said. “The coronavirus is an invisible enemy whose shape we know, but we still don’t know how to defeat it.”

Brazilian leftist politicians of different parties, including da Silva’s Workers’ Party, published a letter last week calling for Bolsonaro’s resignation over his management during the pandemic. The former president didn’t sign it, but said his views are clear.

“There’s no way out with Bolsonaro if he doesn’t change his behavior,” he said. “It would be much easier to apologize, admit he was wrong, tell the Brazilian people that he is sorry.”

____

Associated Press writer Maurico Savarese reported this story in Sao Paulo and AP writer David Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro.





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