Ghani’s misspeak


Zalmay Khalilzad this week held one-on-one talks with the Taliban in Qatar. The US Special Envoy for Peace in Afghanistan famously skipped the Moscow conference on Afghan reconciliation earlier this month. On the grounds that the multilateral dialogue risked undermining his own efforts to break the current impasse. Similarly, representatives of the Ashraf Ghani government were a no-show. For the simple reason that Kabul insists that the Taliban should be talking to it directly before anyone else.
All of which makes the Afghan President’s recent comments targeting Pakistan rather misplaced. Ghani began by calling for the “undeclared war” between the two sides to end at the earliest; while talking of the need to remove the spectre of violence. So far, so good. Except that he proceeded to argue that his country is not being used to launch attacks against Islamabad. This is not only erroneous but is a continuation of the blame game in everything but name. Then, in the next breath, he spoke of how Pakistan needs to support direct interaction between Kabul and the Taliban. The Ghani government would do well to stop outsourcing responsibility to this country in this regard. Not least because this sounds an awful lot like scapegoating.
Equally uncalled for were remarks that Afghanistan has yet to see any “urgency” from Prime Minister Imran Khan on either of these fronts. Yet surely even Ghani must understand that the most pressing issue here on this side of the Durand Line is to stop economic haemorrhaging. A condition that was exacerbated by Donald Trump’s ‘do or else’ so-callled strategic vision for the Af-Pak region. And then there is the fact that while Pakistan is not in election mode Ghani is. He is hoping to secure the presidency for a second term next year. And it appears that he is campaigning on a single mandate: ending the war in his country. The success of which will rest on the US agreeing to an exit date.
Thus instead of indicting Pakistan for all of Afghanistan’s ills — Kabul might do better to consider taking a seat at the Moscow peace table the next time around. If nothing else, it would provide an opportunity to outline its vision post-US withdrawal and post-conflict resolution. Because up until now it appears that there is no plan in place for either scenario. More broadly speaking, however, President Ghani needs to recognise that the Afghan conflict has long been a regionalised one. And if the Taliban are in attendance so much the better. After all, during last week’s meet-up, the group made it clear from the get-go that they were there as silent observers; not participating in the negotiation process. This was in recognition of Kabul being the rightful drivers of a final political solution.