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Karzai critical over Ghani’s reach-out to Pakistan

March 10, 2015

Summary: A former President marking the current incumbent’s work. 

ghani and KarzaiHamid Karzai has recently expressed concern that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is leaning over too far to accommodate Pakistan as he attempts to secure peace talks with the Taliban.

The Guardian, 9 March 2015: Afghanistan’s historic struggles against British imperialism and Soviet invasion will have been in vain if the country succumbs to pressure from neighbouring Pakistan, Hamid Karzai, has warned in an interview with the Guardian.  The former president of Afghanistan made his remarks at a time when his successor, Ashraf Ghani, has overturned the country’s traditionally hostile relationship with Pakistan in the hope of enlisting its help in brokering a peace deal with the Taliban.

Several once-unthinkable concessions made to Pakistan in recent months have horrified Karzai and many of the men who helped him rule for more than a decade.

“We want a friendly relationship but not to be under Pakistan’s thumb,” he said.

It is a view many think Ghani cannot afford to ignore, given how many people agree with Karzai, a familiar and charismatic figure who remains in the thick of Afghan politics.

The Taliban have long had a “safe haven” inside the southern Baluchistan (Quetta) and north western regions of Pakistan and many analysts, Western politicians and former ISAF commanders have argued convincingly that Pakistan’s intelligence services, the ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence) have had, and continue to retain, strong links and influence within the Taliban’s Pakistan-based leadership.

In truth, Hamid Karzai’s relationship with Pakistan was mixed.  He and his family were based there during the Soviet occupation and the Taliban period.  He also reached out to Pakistan when he was President, recognising the need to engage.  He once said that he and Pakistan would fight against the US in the event of war:

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has said he would side with Pakistan in the event of war with the US in a surprising political twist that is likely to disconcert his western allies.

“If there is war between Pakistan and America, we will stand by Pakistan,” Karzai said in a television interview. He put his hand on his heart and described Pakistan as a “brother” country.

The statement was widely interpreted as a rhetorical flourish rather than a significant offer of defence co-operation. Despite recent tension between Pakistan and the US, open warfare is a remote possibility.

Ashraf Ghani is trying to get dialogue going with the Taliban, much as Karzai did, and should be applauded for that.  It will need close engagement with Pakistan, simple as that.  Pakistan can act as a “spoiler” very easily, if it perceives that its views are not being taken into consideration.  Treading the very thin line between standing up to Pakistan and taking Pakistani strategic concerns into account will likely always be a thankless task, open to very vocal criticism.  It will need careful handling by any Afghan president when reporting back to the government and the people in Afghanistan.

From his mini-palace in the centre of Kabul, Mr Karzai expresses support for Ghani’s presidency generally and I think this is genuine and actually quite encouraging that a) a peaceful Presidential transition has taken place and b) the former President has regular private and informal access to the current post-holder.  I think that Ghani has a pretty clear-eyed and rational approach to most of his challenges, perhaps more so than his predecessor.  Karzai had some pretty emotional ups and downs during his difficult tenure, not least involving his relationship with Pakistan.  He is probably still vexed by his experience and is using his priviledged position to unload.  Mr Ghani is probably benefiting from some of the lessons identified during Karzai’s tenure.

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