Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Fresh sparks between bitter neighbours

ISLAMABAD/KABUL: Pakistan and Afghanistan engaged in a new confrontation on Thursday as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a controversial statement on Pakistan’s internal matters.

In response, Pakistan urged Afghanistan’s leadership to pay attention to the issues of their own country rather than making statements against others.

Rejecting the controversial tweet by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said ‘such irresponsible statements are only gross interference’.

The Foreign Minister called upon Afghan leadership to focus on the long-standing grievances of Afghan people. “We reject the tweet by President Ashraf Ghani,” he tweeted.

Earlier, President Ghani expressed the Afghan government’s ‘concerns’ over the ‘violence perpetrated against peaceful protestors and civil activists in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan’.

“Afghan government has serious concerns about the violence perpetrated against peaceful protestors and civil activists in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan,” he tweeted.

He added: “We believe it is moral responsibility of every government to support civil activities that take a stand against terrorism and extremism that plagues and threatens our region and collective security. Otherwise there could be long-standing negative consequences.”

Recently, Pakistan arranged ‘result-oriented’ US-Afghan Taliban dialogue in Qatar. The Afghan Taliban, however, refused to meet the representatives of the Afghan government.

Pakistan and the US are hoping to finalise the settlement of Afghanistan issue when their top leaders, Imran Khan and Donald Trump, possibly meet in the near future.

Recently, US President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking Islamabad’s support in securing a ‘negotiated settlement’ to the war in Afghanistan.

This came as Washington stepped up efforts to hold peace talks with Taliban, more than 17 years after invasion of Afghanistan. In his letter, Trump said a settlement is ‘his most important regional priority’, the Pakistani foreign ministry stated. “In this regard, he has sought Pakistan’s support and facilitation”, it added.

In December, the US Special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad had briefed Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi about the US President’s letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan for getting Pakistan’s cooperation regarding Afghan reconciliation process. Khalilzad had also visited Pakistan in October in his current capacity.

Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s special peace envoy Omer Daudzai said that the war that had ravaged Afghanistan for more than 17 years and cost the US about $1 trillion will end this year.

He, however, warned that unless the Taliban cooperate, there will not be peace. The Taliban have held several rounds of talks with the US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad but rejected direct talks with the Afghan government.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been pressing the Taliban to engage Afghan government in the talks. Daudzai said that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘heart and mind is in the right place. We are hopeful. We have received all the right signals.’

Daudzai said: “I don’t want to get into the past, but in the present, there is much evidence that Pakistan is playing a positive role in Afghan peace talks. Pakistan’s attitude towards Afghanistan has also changed.”

The US had toppled Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001. They had called off their meeting with the US officials in Saudi Arabia this week after Riyadh insisted to bring the Afghan government to the table. The talks will be the 4rth in a series between Taliban leaders and US special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad. Pakistan and Iran are trying to persuade the Taliban to meet Afghan officials.

The US, which sent troops to Afghanistan in the wake of September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and at the peak of the deployment had more than 100,000 troops in the country, withdrew most of its forces in 2014. It keeps around 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission aiding Afghan security forces and hunting militants.

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