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Ghani Moves To Answer Critics Over Cooperation With Pakistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

In what can be described as a detailed rebuttal to opponents, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has explained and defended his outreach efforts to neighboring Pakistan.

In a symbolic move, Ghani delivered his remarks in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, the hometown of his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

Last week, the former Afghan president publicly parted ways with Ghani over a recent intelligence-sharing agreement with Islamabad.

Speaking to tribal leaders and officials in Kandahar on June 9, Ghani said the cooperation deal between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) is not yet operational.

"As long as the head of our National Directorate of Security, engineer [Rahmatullah] Nabil, does not sign the agreement with the head of the ISI, this deal cannot be implemented," he said.

In a reference to the public uproar over the agreement, Ghani said he has personally taken charge of the issue.

"I will write this agreement and send it to the Afghan National Security Council. We will then hold consultations with lawmakers and only move forward if we reach a consensus," he said. "We should not engage in a blame game over this just yet."

Ghani's administration has faced harsh criticism over the intelligence cooperation deal after it became public on May 18. Last week, Karzai focused on the deal to criticize Ghani's outreach to Pakistan.

"His policy toward Pakistan is not right," Karzai told Voice of America. "An agreement between the ISI and the NDS is a great loss for Afghanistan."

Karzai said Hisamuddin Khan, a former deputy of the Afghan spy service, leaked copies of the deal to him after it was signed. "This deal clearly goes against Afghanistan's sovereignty. It is clearly an atrocious betrayal of the people of Afghanistan."

Karzai said the deal called for joint efforts by the ISI and the NDS to shape public opinion and cooperate against armed separatists and even those who oppose collaboration between the two countries.

"Shaping public opinion means giving deceiving people. This agreement means oppression similar to what the ISI does in Pakistan through detentions and forced disappearances," he said. "In the Afghan context, anyone who claims patriotism or pushes for his country's independence can be detained at the ISI's request."

Karzai said Afghanistan has never faced the problem of separatism. "Was this deal intended to pave the way for separatism in Afghanistan?" he asked. "Or we have agreed with Pakistan to suppress the Baluch and Pashtun separatists in that country."

Ghani, however, rejected such assertions. He said he first convinced Pakistani leaders to define their bilateral relationship as being in a state of "undeclared hostilities" for the past 36 years in general and the past 14 years in particular.

"Our countries need to first make peace," he said. "Had anybody treated us as a state before? We were looked upon as only a battlefield."

Ghani said he is trying to reshape relations between the neighbors as two independent sovereign nations. "We have been a nation for 5,000 years, and we will remain a state for the next 5,000 years."

In an opinion piece for RFE/RL's Gandhara website last week, Aimal Faizi, a former Afghan presidential spokesman who still works for Karzai, wrote that before Ghani assumed office last year Karzai advised him about bilateral relations with Pakistan and the longstanding issue of the Durand Line.

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

The Durand Line is the 2,500-kilometer demarcation established between an Afghan king and British India in the 19th century. Kabul has never officially recognized the line as its international border with Pakistan to the east.

In Kandahar, Ghani was emphatic in rejecting that his outreach to Pakistan is tantamount to a deal over the Durand Line.

"I have not uttered a word about the Durand Line issue [during bilateral discussions with Pakistan]," he said. "No one, including myself, has the authority to settle this. Only the Afghan people are empowered to do so."

Ghani said the two neighbors will eventually have to find a solution to their problems.

"Today, the real problem is the need for peace between the two countries," he said. "We will make peace on the terms that I have written about. We first need to normalize our relations and will then move toward cooperation. This process might take 10 years, but we need to have ideas and make efforts toward that goal and save our homeland from ongoing destruction."

In an apparent rebuke to Karzai, Ghani indicated he will soon sack the powerful police chief in Kandahar Province. General Abdul Raziq became one of the most powerful figures in southern Afghanistan during Karzai's 13 years in power. While accredited with beating the Taliban insurgents, he is also accused of grave rights abuses.

"Only the governor is my special representative. There is no other power center in Kandahar," he told cheering tribal leaders and officials.