Washington, Aug 26 : US ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, who is an Afghan by birth, has reportedly been pulled up by US State Department officials for unauthorisedly establishing contacts with Pakistan's presidential hopeful and PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari.
The conduct by Khalilzad has raised eyebrows because of speculation that he might seek to succeed Hamid Karzai as president of Afghanistan. Though, Khalilzad himself has denied of having any such plans.
If a senior US official is to be believed, Khalilzad talked to Zardari over phone several times a week for the past month until he was confronted about the "unauthorized contacts". Khalilzad had been advised to "stop speaking freely" to Zardari, and that it was not clear whether he would face any disciplinary action, added the official.
This is not the first instance that has come to notice whereby any US envoy was accused of unauthorisedly contacting any political leader. In 1979, Andrew Young was forced to resign as the US ambassador to the UN over his "unauthorized contacts" with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
According to other officials, he also had plans to meet Zardari during a vacation in Dubai, but that was cancelled after US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard A. Boucher learnt about the move from none other than Zardari himself.
Then, Boucher is learnt to have sent a personal email to Khalizad telling him that his conduct was unanthorised. "Can I ask what sort of 'advice and help' you are providing?" Boucher wrote in an angry e-mail message to Khalilzad. "What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personnel?" the New York Times quoted Boucher as telling the US envoy at the UN in the emal.
The copies of the message were sent to others at the highest levels of the State Department, added the paper.
Officially, the US has remained neutral in the contest to succeed Musharraf, and there is concern within the State Department that the discussions between Khalilzad and Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, could leave the impression that the US was taking sides in Pakistan's already chaotic internal politics.
Khalilzad also had a close relationship with Zardari's wife and former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto, and accompanied her on a flight last summer on a private jet to a policy gathering in Aspen, Colo.
According to unidentified sources, Khalilzad, who was the Bush administration's first ambassador to Afghanistan, has also kept in close contact with Afghan officials, thereby angering William Wood, the current American ambassador.