Con­joined Twins

Kabul and Is­lam­abad need to come to­gether in the in­ter­est of re­gional peace.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S. M. Hali

The hon­ey­moon be­tween Ashraf Ghani and Pak­istan seems to be over. The bon­homie and ca­ma­raderie with Pak­istan that be­came ap­par­ent with Dr. Ashraf Ghani’s as­sump­tion of the man­tle of Pres­i­dency was al­ways go­ing to be brit­tle and frail be­cause of the weak wicket of the in­cum­bent Afghan Pres­i­dent. His pre­de­ces­sor Hamid Karzai used to call Pak­istan and Afghanistan con­joined twins in one breath while in the next he would hurl in­sults at it. Hamid Karzai’s case was dif­fer­ent. Firstly, he was un­der In­dian in­flu­ence, se­condly he had lit­tle con­trol over the af­fairs in Afghanistan; thirdly there were se­vere al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion against the for­mer Afghan Pres­i­dent and his fam­ily. Pos­si­bly to draw at­ten­tion from his short­com­ings and fail­ures he found a con­ve­nient scape­goat in Pak­istan. In his fi­nal days of pres­i­dency, Karzai was highly crit­i­cal of his great­est bene­fac­tor, USA, re­fus­ing to sign the Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Ac­cord with the coun­try.

Dr. Ashraf Ghani’s prob­lem is di­verse. Firstly, he heads a unity gov­ern­ment, which com­prises hard­liner North­ern Al­liance lead­ers like Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah and a mot­ley crowd of war­lords, who have dif­fer­ent stakes in the gov­ern­ment. Ashraf Ghani is a tech­no­crat and a for­mer se­nior World Bank of­fi­cial, whose in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure has broad­ened his wis­dom and vi­sion. He does not carry any bag­gage of for­mer favours by the US, In­dia, Pak­istan or any other ex­ter­nal force. He gen­uinely be­lieved that Pak­istan could sup­port the peace process in Afghanistan, thus his first port of call was Is­lam­abad, where break­ing with pro­to­col, he met Pak­istan’s Army Chief at the GHQ.

De­spite se­ri­ous hic­cups like the Army Public School at­tack in Peshawar in which in­tel­li­gence agen­cies had ev­i­dence of the per­pe­tra­tors of the heinous as­sault be­ing con­trolled from Afghan soil, the sol­i­dar­ity with­stood. Pak­istan’s premier in­tel­li­gence agency ISI and the Afghan se­cu­rity or­ga­ni­za­tion

NDS signed an agree­ment for shar­ing in­tel­li­gence. Afghans cadets ar­rived for train­ing at the Pak­istan Mil­i­tary Academy in Kakul but ap­par­ently, some of Dr. Ashraf Ghani’s own part­ners in the gov­ern­ment were highly crit­i­cal of his over­tures to Pak­istan. There were other de­trac­tors too, who did not ap­pre­ci­ate the grow­ing propin­quity be­tween Kabul and Is­lam­abad. One of the first ac­tions that Dr. Ashraf Ghani took af­ter be­ing sworn in as Pres­i­dent was can­cel­ing a de­fence sup­ply agree­ment with In­dia. His visit to New Delhi came many months af­ter vis­it­ing Pak­istan, where he did em­pha­size that re­la­tions with Pak­istan are not a zero sum game but ties be­tween In­dia and Afghanistan re­mained luke­warm.

Dur­ing the Chief of Gen­eral Staff Afghan Na­tional Army Gen­eral Sher Mo­ham­mad Karimi’s visit to Pak­istan, while he was re­view­ing the pass­ing out pa­rade of the Cadets at the PMA Kakul, a sui­cide bomb blast in Jalal­abad killed 33 peo­ple and in­jured more than 100 out­side a bank, where gov­ern­ment work­ers col­lect salaries. Just af­ter the first peace talks be­tween Afghan of­fi­cials and Afghan Tal­iban, hosted by Pak­istan and ob­served by China and USA at Mur­ree, a se­ries of terror at­tacks rocked dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in Afghanistan. Cer­tainly some crit­ics did not want Pak­istan and Afghanistan to shed their mis­trust and work closely. For­mer Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai was one of the most vo­cal op­po­nents of Pak­istan’s role in the peace process.

Worse was yet to come; on the eve of the sec­ond round of talks be­tween the Afghan of­fi­cials and Tal­iban, while both team mem­bers had reached Is­lam­abad, the news of the death of Mul­lah Omar was dis­closed. Kabul claimed that Mul­lah Omar had ex­pired two years ear­lier in Karachi though Is­lam­abad de­nied that the Tal­iban leader’s demise took place on Pak­istan soil. What­ever the truth, the peace talks were scut­tled and a new leader, Mul­lah Akhtar Muham­mad Man­sour re­placed Mul­lah Omar. Ap­par­ently he was not a unan­i­mous choice and a split ap­peared in the rank and file of the Afghan Tal­iban. The new Tal­iban leader did an­nounce his sup­port for ne­go­ti­a­tions for peace but in­sisted that vi­o­lent at­tacks would con­tinue. As if on cue or per­pe­trated by splin­ter groups, Kabul was again tar­geted by ter­ror­ists and a huge toll of ca­su­al­ties re­sulted.

This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back and Dr. Ashraf Ghani, who was al­ready un­der tremen­dous pres­sure from within his gov­ern­ment for trust­ing Pak­istan, now lost his pa­tience and lashed out at his erst­while ally. The oft-re­peated ac­cu­sa­tions of Pak­istan sup­port­ing the ter­ror­ists were echo­ing again. Ghani, in his ad­dress

If the venue of Pak­istan is deemed un­ac­cept­able for host­ing the peace talks, let it be a neu­tral lo­ca­tion ac­cept­able to both stake­hold­ers.

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