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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

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker will not seek re-election in 2022

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) speaking during a press conference in November 2021. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), a moderate who typically ranks as one of the nation's most popular governors, said Wednesday that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (R) will not seek a third term in 2022.

Why it matters: The decision leaves the gubernatorial race wide open and will likely affect multiple down-ballot races next year. Baker was expected to be the front-runner had he joined the race.

2 hours ago - Health

CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers

Travelers with their luggage arrive at a COVID-19 testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday night that it is working to impose stricter testing requirements for international travelers due to the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The big picture: The new rules would require all international travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to show a negative test taken a day before their flight to the U.S. Currently, the CDC says fully vaccinated travelers are allowed to show a test taken no more than three days before their departure, AP reports.

Republicans threaten to shut down government over vaccine mandates

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Capitol in November 2020. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate are planning to force a government shutdown Friday to deny funding needed to enforce the Biden administration's vaccine mandates on the private sector, according to Politico.

Why it matters: Congress has until the end of the week to pass a stopgap measure to extend funding into 2022, though objection from a small group of Republicans could shut down the government.

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