Afghan transition: President Karzai moves to allay US concerns

Published: April 30, 2011

Karzai sends pro-US Dr Ghani to Islamabad for follow-up meeting on Pak-Afghan commission. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: 

To soothe Washington’s apprehensions about the recently concluded Pak-Afghan agreements in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai has sent a known pro-US official to Islamabad for follow-up talks with the top leadership, sources told The Express Tribune.

Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai, chief coordinator of the Afghan transition process, is here discussing the implementation of the agreements arrived at between the two countries during Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani’s recent visit to Kabul.

Dr Ghani, a renowned economist who served as finance minister in the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan until December 2004, had comprehensive talks with the officials of the ministry of foreign affairs on Thursday and Friday, the source said.

Dr Ghani was expected to meet President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani on Friday, the source said, adding that he will continue to engage with Islamabad on sensitive issues including the US’s announced troop pullout plan that begins July 2011.

Sidelining the US

President Karzai has faced serious criticism by his political opponents, including 2009 presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, for the agreement he had reached with Gilani in April.

The criticism was compounded following reports by the Wall Street Journal that Gilani “bluntly told the Afghan President that the Americans had failed them both,” and that Karzai “should forget about allowing a long-term US military presence in his country.”

The US is seeking a long term accord with Afghanistan that would allow for US troop presence in the country after 2014, the deadline set by Washington for complete transition to Afghan security forces.

Both Kabul and Islamabad have officially denied the Wall Street Journal report.

“The US is in fact worried about Pakistan’s opposition to the setting up of permanent military bases in Afghanistan,” a senior Pakistani official told The Express Tribune, requesting anonymity.

“Pakistan is against any “new great game” in Afghanistan as it will undermine peace and stability in the entire region, US Vice President Joseph Biden was told, during a meeting between him and Gilani earlier this year,” the source added.

Gilani also opposed the idea of an American-orchestrated ‘Great Game’ in Afghanistan during his talks with Karzai, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

“What really disturbed Washington was the new Pak-Afghan resolve to settle their issues bilaterally without the mediation of US,” said a Pakistani official from the ministry of foreign affairs.

“Washington considered this agreement as an attempt on the part of Pakistan to sideline the US on the Afghan issue,” he added.

Meanwhile, Karzai, who initially opposed the idea of a long-term accord with the US, has repeatedly said he would take up the US demand to the Afghan parliament for a final decision.

Islamabad is not the only one opposed to a long-term strategic partnership agreement between Kabul and Washington. Other regional heavyweights, Tehran, Beijing and Moscow, have also opposed the prospect of a long-term American presence in the region.

“It’s true that many other countries — including China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — are also discussing the endgame in Afghanistan with the Pakistani government, but Pakistan does not believe that the crucial role played by the United States can be replaced by another power,” the Foreign Policy magazine quoted a Pakistani official as saying.

“As long as the Americans play straight with Pakistan and take into account Pakistani concerns, Pakistan would rather work with the US,” the official added.

Fundamental differences between Pakistan and US, however, will ensure that the Afghan transition process is not entirely a smooth one.

“Some level of discord is to be expected as Pakistan looks out for its own interests in a post-war Afghanistan,” the magazine quoted the official.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2011.

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