President Ashraf Ghani feels down, and out of the loop — as direct talks between the US and the Taliban move into the top gear. Ghani’s mandate expires in May and he is under growing pressure to step down before the presidential election scheduled for September 28. The Taliban are not ready to hold talks with Kabul and insist on the installation of an interim government as part of a peace agreement — something that Ghani is not ready to accept. But with President Trump firmly focused on exploring a way out of Afghanistan, Ghani risks falling out of the US favour.
Ghani’s expression of annoyance on the remarks attributed to Prime Minister Imran Khan is, therefore, quite understandable. Thrice in a span of just about one month, Kabul has demanded an explanation from Pakistan over comments related to peace talks, pointing the flaring tensions between the two sides at a sensitive time.
Kabul deemed PM Imran’s reported remarks on the need for an Afghan interim government as “an obvious example of Pakistan’s interventional policy and disrespect to the national sovereignty and determination of the people of Afghanistan”. Ghani also recalled his ambassador from Islamabad, besides summoning Pakistan’s deputy ambassador in Kabul to discuss the “irresponsible” remarks.
On the contrary, Pakistan reacted in a responsible way, not getting drawn into a tit-for-tat response. Moving to control the diplomatic fallout from the reported remarks, the Foreign Office clarified that the PM had only been referring to “Pakistan’s model, where elections are held under an interim government.”
With Afghanistan appearing on the verge of peace, it’s time to exercise all the care and caution. That an unstable Afghanistan would continue to be a source of instability for the entire region needs not be over-emphasised. Therefore, all stakeholders, whether Afghans or their neighbours, need to focus on only one thing: peace in a country that has been bleeding for four decades.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2019.
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