ISLAMABAD: The Afghan president said on Monday Kabul no longer wanted Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table in a major shift in policy towards the insurgent group and casting doubts over the ongoing peace process.
“Pakistan promised to aid peace talks but we no longer expect Islamabad to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table,” Ghani laid out his policy while addressing a joint session of the Afghan parliament.
The Afghan president’s rare address to the joint session was aired live on state and private television channels in his country.
“We want Pakistan to honour its commitment and take military action against the Afghan Taliban. We want them to hand over the Taliban to the Afghan government so we can try them in courts,” Ghani said.
His comments came as relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan deteriorate in the wake of the April 19 suicide gun and bomb attacks on an Afghan security agency headquarters at the centre of Kabul that left 64 people dead and over 350 injured. The attacks came days after the Afghan Taliban launched their spring offensive.
The Taliban’s announcement and subsequent attack had already put the stalled peace process by the four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) under a cloud. But Ghani’s latest remarks may have dealt it a critical blow.
Describing the Taliban as ‘ignorant’, Ghani said there is no difference between good terrorists and bad terrorists and that called on Pakistan to act as a responsible government. Ghani also labelled the Islamic State, Haqqani Network and certain segments of the Taliban as ‘enemies’ of Afghanistan.
His comments echoed statements issued late last week where an Afghan presidential spokesperson accused the Haqqani Network of planning the attack in Pakistan with help from foreign intelligence circles. Afghan Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attack. Following the Taliban’s refusal to join the peace process, Ghani has been under pressure to change his policy on peace and reconciliation with the militant group.
“The time for amnesty is over,” Ghani said vowing a tough military response against the insurgents. “For the Taliban who are ready to end bloodshed, we have left the door open for talks. But the door will not be open forever.”
Taliban team in Pakistan
A three-member delegation of the Afghan Taliban arrived in Islamabad on Monday to discuss possibility of negotiations with the Afghan government, diplomatic and Taliban sources privy to the development told The Express Tribune.
The delegation includes Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, a former diplomat in Islamabad and Jan Muhammad Madni, who has served as Afghan ambassador to UAE during the Taliban and Maulvi Nek Muhammad a member of the Taliban’s leadership council and long time member of their negotiation team.
A Taliban leader confirmed to The Express Tribune that the three political negotiators are in Pakistan; however, the group have not officially indicated anything about the purpose of the visit.
The diplomatic source, however, did not confirm whether the team of the Qatar-based Taliban political office will be meeting with representatives of the Afghan government. It was echoed by Afghan government sources.
“The meeting is a rumour. No meeting (with Afghan government) discussed yet,” a diplomatic source said.
Pakistan had hosted the first face-to-face meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government in July last at the Murree hill station. The Taliban cited a list of preconditions to join the negotiations under the QCG which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan China and the United States.
Taliban deplore remarks
Meanwhile, the insurgent group reacted angrily to Ghani’s remarks and described the Afghan leadership as “slaves” who have been “imposed by John Kerry” on the Afghan people.
“The rulers should face the fate like Dr Najeeb,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said while referring to public hanging of the Communist leader in 1996.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2016.