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Karzai's Stand For Afghan National Interests

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The recent hasty and secretive signing of an intelligence-sharing agreement with Pakistan has led former Afghan President Hamid Karzai to part ways with the incumbent Afghan leader, Ashraf Ghani.

The policies that Arg, the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, is peddling with Islamabad -- particularly its dealings with the Pakistani military -- have caused a deep and unfortunate rupture between the current and former Afghan presidents.

This state of affairs is the result of months of disagreements over key national issues central to Afghanistan's sovereignty and national interests.

During Afghanistan's hard-fought, disputed elections last year, most presidential hopefuls met with Karzai. Ghani, in particular, assured him that if elected president "he will take all important initiatives after wide-ranging consultations."

During several long deliberations with Ghani, Karzai had made some specific suggestions about looking after core Afghan national interests. He told Ghani that if elected he should be extra vigilant in looking after "Afghan sovereignty, promoting and strengthening national unity, and maintaining an independent foreign policy."

Karzai also made several suggestions about bilateral relations with Pakistan and the long-standing issue of the Durand Line. Named after a 19th-century British colonial diplomat, today the line is Afghanistan's eastern boundary with Pakistan. But the Afghan people and their governments have never accepted the Durand Line as an international border since its demarcation in 1893.

The former leader was emphatic in demanding that Ghani should pay utmost attention to "not concluding any agreement with Pakistan over Afghan sovereignty or the Durand Line issue."

In several meetings, the two discussed these issues in detail, and in light of his experience Karzai outlined his clear thinking to Ghani, who was familiar with many issues and was in broad agreement with Karzai and promised to act in accordance with their consensus.

But soon after assuming office in late September, Ghani began acting against these promises.

He embarked on an outreach mission to Islamabad and began engaging in public and secret deals with Pakistan's military establishment. These overtures posed serious questions, raised suspicions, and even provoked opposition from the Afghan people.

There was an uproar over the signing of an intelligence-sharing agreement between the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). All segments of the Afghan nation voiced opposition to the deal.

Karzai, too opposed, the deal. On May 19, he called Ghani for a "blunt and serious" conversation. He told the president that "intelligence cooperation with Pakistan and such deals are treason and a betrayal of the Afghan soil."

Ghani defended the deal, but Karzai raised several fundamental questions, such as, under this deal, which "separatists" are we supposed to jointly fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Who is behind this ongoing war in Afghanistan? How can be Afghanistan's enemy (the Pakistani military) become a friend, while our traditional ally (India) has now become an enemy?

While Ghani mentioned that the ongoing violence in Afghanistan has domestic aspects, Karzai emphasized its external context and factors.

Despite decades of war, there has never been a separatist movement in Afghanistan. Most Afghans blame Pakistan for backing the Taliban and allied militants in the armed opposition.

Ghani was surprised by the ferocity of Karzai's opposition and immediately investigated who had leaked the details of the intelligence deal to the former leader. He promptly fired two deputies of the NDS director and appointed loyalists instead. This has paved the way to politicize a national institution, which might open it to manipulation by the ISI.

The tense telephonic exchange and its aftermath showcase the serious disagreements over the causes and implications of the ongoing war in the country between the two leaders.

Perhaps such disagreements were not public before, or perhaps the demands and objectives of our major "strategic allies" are now being well implemented in our country.

On May 20, when Karzai's office was preparing a statement to call for scrapping the NDS-ISI deal, the U.S. embassy in Kabul opposed the statement. American diplomats knew about the statement before it was issued and scrambled to assure Karzai's staff that "the deal will be changed and edited."

In that statement, Karzai called on the national unity government to "immediately cancel" the Memorandum of Understanding between the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence services.

It is unfortunate that Karzai is parting ways with Ghani administration because of its Pakistan policy. This should have been prevented and President Ghani can still regain Karzai's support. But it will require Kabul to aim for generating a consensus and gaining the backing of major political leaders on key national issues and policies destined to shape our future.

Aimal Faizi served as a spokesman for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai from 2011 to 2014. These views are the author's alone and do not represent those of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.