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Zalmay Khalilzad speaks about foreign policy at the Mayflower Hotel on April 27, 2016, in Washington, DC. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

On September 5, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that Zalmay Khalilzad will join the State Department as President Trump’s special adviser on Afghanistan. His main mission will be to facilitate talks between the Afghan government and Taliban.

The big picture: Appointing Khalilzad as a special advisor indicates that the Trump administration is serious about an Afghan-led peace process, and about maintaining its hardline approach toward Pakistan. But what remains unclear is how the Pakistani government, now led by first-time prime minister Imran Khan, will work with Khalilzad.

Khalilzad is a known neoconservative figure in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which has entered its eighteenth year. He previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq and later as the UN ambassador during the George W. Bush administration. As an Afghan-American, Khalilzad has a unique understanding of Afghanistan that President Bush tried to capitalize on when Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan’s president in 2004.

Yes, but: His strong connection with Karzai and the visibility of his extended family’s involvement in the Afghan government, which included seeking contracts, raised some concerns within American diplomatic circles about his conflicting interests. In 2008, there was a rumor that Khalilzad might even run as a presidential candidate in Afghanistan’s elections.

The central question is, what happens if Khalilzad is unable to deliver? He has often advocated for creating avenues of mutual understanding between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But he has also been very critical of Pakistan’s sponsorship of the group, even as the Trump administration has asked Pakistan to facilitate talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

The bottom line: There's no way to know whether Khalizad will be successful, but it’s safe to say that the Afghan peace process just got trickier.

Sahar Khan is an adjunct scholar in the Cato Institute's Defense and Foreign Policy Department.

Go deeper

DHS directing $77 million to combat domestic violent extremism in states, cities

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

For the first time, states and localities will spend at least $77 million of Department of Homeland Security grant money on combatting domestic violent extremism, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced on Thursday.

Why it matters: Domestic terrorism has been on the rise in the U.S., spurred on by growing polarization and the mainstreaming of online conspiracy theories. In the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Mayorkas has made fighting the problem a "National Priority Area."

Senate confirms former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as energy secretary

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate voted 64-35 on Thursday to confirm former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as secretary of the Department of Energy.

Why it matters: Granholm, only the second woman to head the department, will play a key role in President Biden’s efforts to accelerate the U.S. shift to clean energy and help other countries do the same.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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  3. U.S. news: California surpasses 50,000 deaths COVID-19 deaths, more than any other state — Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter return to church after receiving COVID-19 vaccines
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