— -- Zalmay Khalilzad has been the White House special envoy for both of the Bush administration's major military efforts: the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.
Shortly after the bombs stopped falling in each country, he took the leading role in the reconstruction.
In Iraq, he helped organize the first meeting of Iraqi leaders after the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime, and in Afghanistan, he managed the loya jirga, or tribal council meeting, that led to the election of Hamid Karzai.
At the initial meeting in Iraq, Khalilzad assured the delegates: "We have no interest, absolutely no interest in ruling Iraq."
It was an unusual promise for Khalilzad to make, since retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the official appointed by the White House to run an interim Iraqi administration, was also in attendance.
But the White House apparently has come to view the Afghanistan-born Khalilzad as its face to the Muslim world.
In an article about Khalilzad, the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur said the Bush administration considers him its "Muslim 'secret weapon.' "
"The fact that he is Afghan and comes from an Islamic country [likely makes him] more amenable to Iraqis and Middle Easterners than a white guy without a Middle Eastern name," said Richard Dekmejian, a political science professor at the University of Southern California, who says he has known Khalilzad for more than a decade.
There was no question Khalilzad was uniquely qualified when the White House named him its special envoy to Afghanistan in the wake of after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: He was the only Afghan in the White House.
Even better, he is a Sunni Muslim born to a Pashtun father — a representative of the dominant religion and ethnicity in that sharply divided country.
But Khalilzad's qualifications amount to more than his background. Before becoming special envoy, he had been working under National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.