Accessibility links

Breaking News

Ghani Closes Window On Pakistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

The Afghan president has risked his political capital and reputation in pursuing a new relationship with neighboring Pakistan in the hopes of bringing elusive peace to his war-weary homeland.

A string of spectacular Taliban attacks, however, seems to have compelled President Ashraf Ghani to end his pivot toward Islamabad because of its apparent failure to rein in the Taliban.

"We hoped for peace but in return war is being declared on us from within Pakistani territory," he told journalists in the Afghan capital Kabul on August 10. "In reality, this means declaring hostility and animosity toward a neighboring country."

Ghani's comments follow a wave of Taliban attacks in Kabul that has killed more than 50 people in recent days. In the latest attack, at least five people were killed near Kabul's international airport on August 10.

The president asked what Pakistan would have done if Islamabad had suffered a devastating attack similar to the one in Kabul's Shah Shaheed neighborhood on August 7 at the hands of a terrorist network operating out of safe havens in Afghanistan. The early-hours attack flattened a city neighborhood, killing 15 people and wounding hundreds more.

"Would you have looked at us as friends or enemies?" he asked. "The incidents of the past two months in general -- and recent days in particular -- show that the suicide training camps and the bomb-making facilities used to target and murder our innocent people still operate, as in the past, in Pakistan."

Ghani said the recent spike in violence in Afghanistan is a "turning point" for his administration. He said that in his telephone conversations with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif on August 9 he made it clear that "the government of Pakistan should have the same definition of terrorism in regard to Afghanistan just as it has for its own."

After assuming office in late September, Ghani embarked on an unprecedented outreach to Pakistan. He engaged in a number of confidence-building measures including security cooperation, which sparked serious domestic opposition to his new course. Ghani had hoped his pivot toward Islamabad would change the outlook of its powerful generals. Pakistan's powerful military has remained the main backer of the Taliban since their emergence two decades ago.

With help from Pakistan's main allies China, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, Ghani hoped to enlist Islamabad to abandon overt and covert support for the Taliban and pressure its fugitive leadership to join a peace process with Kabul.

"We made it very clear to the Pakistani side that a new window of opportunity has opened and that it depends on the capacity and the will of the Pakistani leadership to change that window into a door and then to an alley and even a highway, or to shut it all together," he said of his efforts to cultivate a new relationship with Islamabad.

Ten months later, the Afghan leader appears to be disappointed. "We have waited this long for Pakistan to demonstrate its will through action. However, Pakistan still remains a venue and grounds for gatherings from which mercenaries send us messages of war," he said.

In a last-ditch effort to save the bilateral relationship, an Afghan delegation is expected to visit Pakistan this week to discuss antiterrorism cooperation.

But the Afghan leader seem to have made up his mind.

"Our relation with Pakistan is based on our national interests, on top of which comes the security and safety of our people," he said. "If our people continue to be killed, relations lose meaning, and I hope that will not happen."