New Delhi: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday advised neighbour Pakistan to end its support for terrorist groups like the Taliban, pointing out that Islamabad was at a juncture where it had to make a choice between abandoning state sponsorship of terrorism and facing the consequences of its choice.
In New Delhi on a one-day working visit, Ghani also talked tough about the issue of connectivity—refusing to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that would provide Pakistan access to Central Asia if Islamabad refused to permit connectivity between India and Afghanistan.
Coming just a week after talks between Pakistan, the US, China and Afghanistan in Oman in an attempt to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, Ghani also rejected what he termed a “Pakistan-managed" effort to broker peace in his country as he demanded that the initiative be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
Ghani’s comments came in a speech in New Delhi during his first visit to India after US President Donald Trump unveiled a revamped Afghanistan policy on 21 August that gives New Delhi a greater role in stabilizing Afghanistan economically but berates Pakistan for providing a “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror".
The Afghan President’s India visit comes a day after he met US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and discussed the new Afghanistan policy in Kabul. Tillerson, who was in Pakistan on Tuesday, is scheduled to discuss Afghanistan and a range of issues with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on Wednesday.
In his speech at the Vivekananda International Foundation think tank in New Delhi, Ghani said Afghanistan was fully capable of concluding a peace process on its own with forces opposed to it. An example was the return of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the head of the Hezb-e-Islami militant group, the second largest in Afghanistan, under a peace deal brokered by the Ghani government in May.
“Our approach to internal peace is to own it through Afghan government-led processes," Ghani said. “We would like a push factor from Pakistan vis-a-vis the Taliban, not a Pakistan-managed peace process," he said.
In response to a question, Ghani noted that in 2001, the Taliban was an “exhausted", “spent political force" and it did not have sponsorship. The regrouping of the Taliban into the force it has become currently is due to state sponsorship of the group, he said.
“Sanctuaries are provided, logistics are provided, training is provided, ideological bases are provided. So instead of dramatizing, what we are saying is that Pakistan has come to a juncture and it needs to make a choice," on which would depend the response of the international community.
In a reference to Islamabad’s often articulated charge against India that it was using Afghanistan as a base to destabilize Pakistan, Ghani said there were “no secret agreements" between Kabul and New Delhi. “There are no secret Indian facilities, there is no destabilization of any neighbour from Afghanistan taking place, implicit or explicit collusion," he said.
With India, one of Afghanistan’s biggest donors with aid topping the $3 billion mark, there was “an alignment of interest," Ghani said, something that also found reflection in a statement by the Indian foreign ministry on Tuesday.
“Both sides reiterated their commitment to their strategic partnership and positively assessed the outcomes of the recent high-level bilateral exchanges," the statement said on talks between Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The support extended by India in the defence and security fields, including training of thousands of Afghan defence and security personnel, was positively assessed. The Indian side agreed to extend further assistance depending upon the needs of the Afghan defence and police forces," it said.
“The Indian leadership reiterated its support for a negotiated political reconciliation in Afghanistan that is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. It was emphasized that renunciation of violence and terror, and closure of state-sponsored safe havens and sanctuaries were essential for any meaningful progress and lasting peace," the statement added.