Mr Ghani, beware of the spoilers within

Published: October 23, 2015
The writer is national editor at The Express Tribune

The writer is national editor at The Express Tribune

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has scuttled his successor’s efforts to reconfigure his country’s troubled relationship with Pakistan. By all accounts it seems President Ashraf Ghani has given in to the Karzai camp. He has started speaking in the tongue of his predecessor who, while in office, built a reputation around his frequent anti-Pakistan rants. The Ghani Administration has blamed Pakistan for the uptick in Taliban violence. It has also refused to resume Pakistan-brokered peace talks with the Taliban. And instead has called for Islamabad to “give up Taliban sponsorship” to qualify for the role of negotiator. But how did the Karzai camp nip the Islamabad-Kabul diplomatic romance in the bud?

Karzai was also known for his India-leaning tendencies during his presidency. Some in the Pakistani officialdom even called him a “pawn of India”. And this was not without reason. The Afghan leader publicly professed his love for India — a country he called his second home because he lived there in his younger days, received university education and has a wide circle of friends there. At the diplomatic level, he signed a strategic partnership agreement with New Delhi knowing well that it will alienate Pakistan, which sees growing Indian influence in Kabul as a strategic threat. After Karzai retired as president, Indian analyst M K Bhadrakumar went as far to say that “his retirement literally handicapped India’s Afghan policies and rendered them ineffectual”.

Though retired, Karzai has not exited the Afghan political scene. His presence in Kabul, close to the presidential palace, is formidable, and foreboding for the Ghani Administration. Some Western diplomats believe Karzai, who has styled himself as the father of the modern Afghan nation, is still pulling the strings with the help of his former aides and a wide range of connections — both in Afghan society and administration. They even accused him of “creating a shadow government and actively plotting to destabilise the establishment with the intention of bringing it down” so that he could step in to fill the power vacuum thus created.

Why does Karzai want to undercut Ghani? There could be more than one plausible reason. The most important being Ghani’s move to sideline Karzai’s former aides, his reluctance to warm up to Karzai’s second home [read: India], and his decision to start a “new beginning” with Pakistan — a country Karzai had been demonising throughout his years in power.

Karzai opposed Ghani’s decision to send Afghan military officials to Pakistan for training. The Ghani-Karzai conflict, however, came to a head when Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to improve intelligence-sharing between the two spy agencies. From the Afghan side, the MoU was signed by a deputy director general of the NDS after the agency’s chief, Rahmatullah Nabil, reportedly refused to sign the unprecedented deal. Nabil is a former Karzai aide. His hostility towards Pakistan is no secret — and he doesn’t hide it either. Under his watch, the NDS had attempted to recruit Latifullah Mehsud, a top lieutenant of Hakimullah Mehsud, the slain chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Nabil publicly admitted to the attempt to cultivate Latif “to send a message to Pakistan”. Another Karzai ally, former NDS chief Amrullah Saleh, said he “would have been ashamed” to sign such an agreement.

Nearly a month after the NDS-ISI deal, Pakistan brokered a rare direct meeting between Afghan officials and Taliban representatives in Murree. The Murree Peace Process, as it was officially named, generated a lot of optimism as it enjoyed the blessings of key world powers like China and the United States. Tellingly, Karzai’s reaction was ambiguous, because the peace initiative catapulted Pakistan back into a mediatory role in Afghanistan — something that was not acceptable to the Indian establishment which had invested heavily in Karzai’s Afghanistan.

An op-ed piece in the Indian newspaper The Hindu stated that New Delhi “will convey our unease and concerns, but quietly, and only to those willing to listen”. Islamabad was aware of India’s frustration. And it forewarned that “detractors and spoilers” would try to sabotage the nascent process. Two days before the second round of talks, some “Afghan officials” leaked to the BBC that longtime Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died two years ago. Nabil’s NDS was quick to confirm the news. This leaves little to speculate on who could have been behind the leak. The damage was done. The embryonic Murree Peace Process was aborted — much to the dismay of Islamabad, Beijing and Washington.

The collapse of the Murree initiative was followed by an upsurge in Taliban violence in Afghanistan. And the Karzai-era blame game came to bedevil the Pak-Afghan relationship again. It is high time the Ghani Administration realised that chaos and instability in Afghanistan will only help the cancer of terrorism to metastasise, which Pakistan, being itself afflicted with, will never want. If President Ghani wants to restore peace in his country, he should re-engage with Pakistan and disengage policymaking from the influence of those doing someone else’s bidding in Afghanistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • khattak
    Oct 24, 2015 - 1:07AM

    Ghani gave it 100% at the cost of a very sincere & historical relation friend India. He went against the wishes of 85% of Afghans to gave one last chance to peace. But unfortunately, we dropped it for our ultra nationalistic reasons. We never realized that apart from our bad international image, we are sharpening the instruments of genocide of Pashtun muslims on both sides of Durand line. As we have a choice to have all types of relationships with Communist China, Afghans have the same rights to have all sorts of relations with India. This is not good reason to have Taliban assemblies in Kuchlak to select a terror leader. Recommend

  • sher jan
    Oct 24, 2015 - 1:34PM

    In Naveed Hussain article we find nothing new solution. He is just taking side the most popular official state narrative of Pakistani press. Which always calculate and see Kabul relation with Islamabad in a Indian centric approach. Most of the time Pakistani press preached that Karzai government was weak.He has been considered most of the time is just a puppet. Now according to Pakistani media portray him a very powerful stakeholder living near Kabul palace. We should accept this truth with very open mind and heart that still Pakistan is not sincere in order to move back from her security depth framework. Being a garrison and military state,her dominance on a foreign affaires is a big challenge for normal relation with Kabul. The story of democracy in this warrior state is still moving in peripheral and conduit way.If Islamabad want a normal and friendly relation with need is to not dictate Kabul in her matter while formulating relation with New Delhi or some where else. Hussain should focus this side of the story which has real content. Recommend

  • Np
    Oct 24, 2015 - 2:18PM

    instead if being embarrassed that Pakisya hid Mullah Omar’s death for 2 years and tried to cheat the Afghan government by claiming the initiative had Mullah Omar’s suppirt, Pakistan has the gall to blame NDS which exposed Pakistani lies. What a topsy turvy thinking,Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 24, 2015 - 2:50PM

    Two days before the second round of talks, some “Afghan officials” leaked to the BBC that longtime Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died two years ago. Nabil’s NDS was quick to confirm the news. This leaves little to speculate on who could have been behind the leak.

    I do not follow the ‘Connect’ between the death of Mullah Omar and the Taliban talks.
    Can some one please clarify,

    A. Is it that Mullah Omar was alive and the ‘Leak’ about his death miffed him, leading to the talka being called off?


    B. Were the ‘Talks’ meant to give Mullah Omar eternal life, and his death made the talks unnecessary?


    C. Is it that Pakistan, which was demanding extra concessions from other Taliban warlords as the host of Mullah Omar, got exposed, leading to the cancellation of talks?

    And now some reality Check- Mullah Omar had been dead and buried for more than 2 years when the ‘Talks’ commenced. He died in a Pakistani hospital. Pakistan was aware of his death, Taliban was aware of his death and so was Afghanistan, so who was surprised by this exposure and why?Recommend

  • Feroz
    Oct 24, 2015 - 3:37PM

    Author thinks that Afghans are dumb fools who do not know who is backing the violence and plunder of the Taliban and their assorted allies, beside financing and providing logistical support. Such naivete is not to be expected by a people who have endured almost continued violence masterminded from across their border. Recommend

  • Brad
    Oct 24, 2015 - 6:35PM

    This author believes that Americans are stupid. Wh my tax dollars has to support a country who helped hide Bin Laden? I am basing my opinion on facts not on fantasies!! Recommend

  • Sheikh Saa'di
    Oct 24, 2015 - 6:54PM

    Two days before the second round of talks, some “Afghan officials” leaked to the BBC that longtime Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died two years ago. Nabil’s NDS was quick to confirm the news. This leaves little to speculate on who could have been behind the leak. The damage was done.

    To cut a long story short,

    A. Mullah Omar had died 2 years back.

    B. He died in a Hospital in Karachi.

    C. The Pakistanis were aware of this.

    D. Since he was the Emir of Taliban, they knew it too.

    E. And obviously the Afghans were in the loop.


    Who was surprised by the leak??

    And WHY???Recommend

  • Shah
    Oct 24, 2015 - 7:03PM

    To khattak ……. R u Indian or afghan?
    Anyway beautiful write up.a lesson to Ghani…,,,,Recommend

  • Afghani
    Oct 24, 2015 - 10:12PM

    @khattak India is not a sincere friend of Afghanistan. Indians are using Afghans to bully Pakistan from eastern as well as western borders. It was Pakistan not India that hosted over 3 million Afghans for more than 30 years. Afghans are returning this favor by harboring Pakistani Taliban and playing in Indians’ hands. Afghans should wake upRecommend

  • Avinash Chaudhary
    Oct 24, 2015 - 11:01PM

    The policy and actions based on deception failed through and blame rests with those who resorted to deception.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2015 - 5:58AM

    @Avinash Chaudhary:
    Yep. That would be Modi. And his spittoon carrier Karzai.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2015 - 6:22AM

    No. Not at all. Afghans are a very bright sophisticated people with a worldview.
    And for thousands of years, the land between pieces of rocks and desert, was
    ruled by 5 warlords. Still is. While Afghans are waiting for a Messiah to come free
    them. They thought Mullah Omar was the one. Drat, he up and died.
    Pretttty-yyy soon about 4 million Afghans will be sent back across the border to
    become, sophisticated with a worldview and join their benevolent brothers and sisters.
    , Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2015 - 6:23AM

    How about you write under your real name? Ajeet.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2015 - 6:52AM

    This is what the Afghan refugees do in Karachi:-
    Bank robberies, car hijacking, gun smuggling,
    home invasion robberies, drug dealing, human trafficking,
    Go to any Afghan basti [ghetto] and see Afghan fathers selling
    their daughters/sons. Car thefts,[which are transported to Afghanistan]
    You can buy a Lexus Landcruiser for nickels on the dollar there and
    import it back to Pakistan. Land grabbing, apartment grabbing, house
    grabbing, bhatta khori [extortion] target killing, hired killing, kidnapping
    for ransom….these are just a few of the things that Afghans do in Karachi.
    Then we can go into sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, aiding and abetting
    terrorists/extremists, aiding and abetting RAW. Aiding and supplying guns and
    weapons to Baloch separatists. Aiding Jundullah, LeT, LeJ, BLF, BLA…
    These Afghans needs to be sent back, urgently, to their beloved country. Where
    they can do the above mentioned to their own brothers and sisters. Happily.
    They are responsible for 60% of the crimes committed in Karachi.Recommend

  • abdullah
    Oct 25, 2015 - 7:24PM

    @jp.they do the same in islamabad but islamabad being the capital is controlled better than karachi.As a result they are caught .no one knows what happens after that.Recommend

  • Vivek
    Oct 25, 2015 - 10:15PM

    He is a muslim Pashtoon okRecommend

  • Vivek
    Oct 25, 2015 - 10:23PM

    Dear the glorious Afgan days was 1400 years back when it was ruled by Real Afgan hindu kings called Kabuli shahis and the last one name was Anathapal sahi where now both Hindus and muslims get their sir name called shah’s.
    He was beheaded in his own capital Kabul by Muslim invaders that the last time Afganistan saw peace after that only war and destruction till today Recommend

  • Afghan Maihan
    Oct 26, 2015 - 11:09AM

    @ Afghani

    You are not an Afghan, you don’t know the difference between an Afghan and the Afghani.

    @ Motiwala and other haters
    Your belligerent diatribes reflect the level of your ignorance and hatred for Afghans.
    Pray tell who is sophisticated in Pakistan and what is your civilization and heritage. Your national language is imported from India and your national anthem is in the language of the Afghans and Persians whom you despise.

    As far as the article is concerned the author is lazy and intellectualy deficient. Ashraf Ghani is a Ph.d from Columbia University and one of the finest thinkers in the world but the author does not want to highlight all this because it runs counter to his naive and simple India centric narrative.

    Pakistanis are subjected to such pedestrian writers who regurgitate stale state narratives that have no currency outside Pakistan.

    ET mods: If you deem Motiwala and NP comments worthy of being allowed then my retort certainly deserves to be published. Motiwala has written a disgusting, racist and utterly offensive comment and yet it was allowed.I’m Recommend

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