Dr. Zalmay M. Khalilzad (born 1951) is the highest-ranking native Afghan and Muslim in the Bush administration. In May of 2001 he was named Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Persian Gulf, Southwest Asia and Other Regional Issues at the National Security Council, reporting to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. On September 24, 2003, President Bush named Khalilzad the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and he took his post in Kabul on November 27. Currently, Khalilzad is U.S. ambassador to Iraq; he was sworn in on June 21, 2005.
He is a member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and was one of the signers of the January 26, 1998, PNAC Letter sent to US President Bill Clinton. Khalilzad is also a former board member of Friends of Afghanistan which received extensive U.S. funding.
An ethnic Pashtun, he was born in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. He began his education at the private Ghazi Lycée school in Kabul. He emigrated to the United States as a high school exchange student. Khalilzad received his doctorate at the University of Chicago, where he studied closely with strategic thinker Albert Wohlstetter. In the early 1980s, his team taught a class at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University with Robert Jervis. At Columbia University he also worked closely with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter administration’s architect of the policy supporting the Afghan mujahideen resistance to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984 Khalilzad accepted a one-year Council on Foreign Relations fellowship to join the State Department, where he worked for Paul Wolfowitz, then the director of Policy Planning. In 1988 he was the State Department’s Special Advisor on Afghanistan to Undersecretary of State Michael H. Armacost. During this period he developed and guided the international program to promote the merits of a Mujahideen-led, Wahhabi-based Afghanistan to oust the Soviet occupation.
Khalilzad served under former US Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush as special assistant to the president for Southwest Asia, the Near East and North Africa. From 1985 to 1989, Khalilzad served as a senior United States Department of State official advising on the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Iran-Iraq war, and from 1991 to 1992, he was a senior Defense Department official for policy planning. He served as a counsellor to Donald Rumsfeld. Khalilzad initially viewed the Taliban as a potential force for stability and as counter balance to Iran, but his views changed over time, especially after the events of September 11. Dr. Khalilzad headed the Bush-Cheney Transition team for the Department of Defense and has been a Counselor to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.
In May 2001, National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice announced the appointment of Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Gulf, Southwest Asia and Other Regional Issues, National Security Council.
Khalilzad was an advisor for the Unocal Corporation. In the mid-1990s, while working for the Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Khalilzad conducted risk analyses for Unocal for a proposed 1,400 km (890 mile), $2-billion, 622 m³/s (22,000 ft³/s) natural gas pipeline project which would have extended from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. Between 1993 and 1999, Dr. Khalilzad was Director of the Strategy, Doctrine and Force Structure program for RAND’s Project Air Force. While with RAND, he founded the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Khalilzad co-authored the RAND study, “The United States and a Rising China”. From 1979 to 1989, Dr. Khalilzad was an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University.
Khalilzad holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1979). He lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland with his wife Cheryl Benard and their two children, Alexander and Max.