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Afghan President conveyed mixed signals to Pakistan

05 September, 2015

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ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani conveyed on Friday mixed signals to Pakistan on resumption of rapprochement that was disrupted last month after terrorist attacks in Kabul.

As Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz returned to Islamabad after a day-long trip to the Afghan capital it wasn’t clear if a thaw in ties after weeks of estrangement was in the offing or the tensions would persist.

Addressing the participants of the sixth edition of Regional Economic Confere­nce on Afghanistan (RECCA-VI) in Kabul hours after he had held an hour and half long one-to-one meeting with Mr Aziz, President Ghani reiterated his policy of good neighbourly ties with Pakistan, but at the same time pointed fingers at unnamed elements within Pakistan who, in his view, were opposed to peace in his country (Afghanistan).

It looked from the statement as if the meeting between Mr Ghani and Mr Aziz, which was being keenly followed, failed to achieve any major breakthrough.

Mr Aziz was leading the Pakistani delegation to the regional conference, which in addition to foreign ministry officials, included Director General Military Operations Maj Gen Aamer Riaz.

Besides attending the conference and meeting President Ghani, the adviser met a number of Afghan leaders, including Foreign Minis­ter Salahuddin Rabbani, National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar, Second Deputy to Chief Executive Officer Mohammad Mohaqiq and Ustad Atta Muhammad Noor. He also attended a reception hosted by Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

The focus of Mr Aziz’s discussions in Kabul was on finding a way to end the acrimony in the relationship that became more pronounced after last month’s attacks in Kabul.

Significantly, there was no joint communiqué at the end of the visit. No statement was issued on the meetings Mr Aziz had held with Afghan leaders in Kabul.

According to an analyst, the best indicator of what transpired in Kabul vis-a-vis the bilateral ties was the speech that Mr Ghani delivered at the conference.

Afghan president said: “Pakistan’s leaders express the desire for peace but face the challenge of controlling those forces that believe that an unstable and weakened Afghanistan is better than a strong and confident neighbour.”

The veiled reference to the ‘spoilers’ and anti-peace elements within Pakistan neutralised the positivity generated by the reiteration of the Afghan president’s policy of normalisation of ties with Pakistan.

About his government’s policy on ties with Islamabad, Mr Ghani said: “Our economic strategy is inextricably bound up with our political strategy of building ties with our neighbours, above all with Pakistan.”

He further said: “We are confident that an accommodation can be reached that lets both Pakistan and ourselves develop the economies that we need to provide prosperity to our people.”

But at the same time, he cautioned: “The path forward will not be smooth. There will be setbacks.”

On reconciliation process, Mr Ghani said: “The quest for peace would continue.” He denied the perception about division within the National Unity Government on the issue and said: “Dr Abdullah and I have been united in this quest for peace”.

He recalled that his government had reached out to Taliban both through “state-to-state contacts and through people-to-people exchanges”. “Although more civilians were killed by Taliban attacks than at any time since 2002, for the first time peace is a real prospect,” he added.

During the weekly media briefing earlier in the day, Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said Mr Sartaj Aziz had carried five key messages to Kabul.

He listed the messages as: “(i) Good wishes from the people and the leadership of Pakistan to the people and the leadership of Afghanistan; (ii) Pakistan’s commitment to maintaining friendly, brotherly and good neighbourly relations with Afghanistan; (iii) Need to stop anti-Pakistan campaign that has been visible for some time now at various levels in Afghanistan, as it was counter-productive and did not serve the best interests of the peoples of the two countries; (iv) Pakistan’s concerns relating to security of its embassy personnel under the prevailing charged anti-Pakistan atmosphere in Afghanistan; and (v) Pakistan’s commitment to facilitating an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.”

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