So while US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was on vacation, a firestorm of stories broke out accusing him of, among other things, forming a political fundraising group to run for president of Afghanistan (sort of an awkward jump for a man currently serving as America's top diplomat to the United Nations), and improper fraternizing with Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto and leader of the Pakistan People's Party.
Today Khalilzad returned to the United Nations and denied everything, his main defence being that, well, heck, he's a popular guy.
"I have many contacts and friends around the world," Khalilzad informed the press. "I've been in the business for a long time, and these contacts and friendships, many of them precede my assignment on the role in the US government. ... I'm experienced enough to know the difference between being a channel with these friends on behalf of the United States, and having social contacts. In particular with regard to the Bhutto family I have known Benazir Bhutto for a long time and of course got to know her husband as well. ... I feel these contacts are perfectly natural [and no political advice was exchanged]. I've been surprised by the characterization of those contacts."
On rumors that he's running for President of Afghanistan, he was more specific than he had been previously, when he had been rather tense-specific about his lack of interest in the job. "I am not a candidate," he had previously said repeatedly, using only the present tense as if to leave open any change of plans in the future. Not this time, however. "I have no plans. I am not a candidate," Khalilzad said this morning. "I have no plans of becoming a candidate. When I leave here, I will work in the private sector. I am not aware at all if there has been a group ... involved in fundraising."
So there you have it. Ambassador Khalilzad is not, repeat, not be campaigning to be President of Afghanistan, but if people in Afghanistan wish to raise money for him to do so, they can. He will continue to have an active social life, including globe-hopping dinners and phone calls with many world leaders and important newsmaking people.
Of course, if Zardari becomes Pakistan's President and Khalilzad becomes Afghanistan's president, at least we'll have leaderships in those two countries who don't hate each other, which can only be good for the region.