Afghanistan's Ghani walks tightrope over US, Pakistan ties
In pursuing rapprochement with Pakistan and the United States, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is the very antithesis of his fiery predecessor, but his unprecedented diplomatic overtures have prompted rumblings of unease back home.
Kabul: In pursuing rapprochement with Pakistan and the United States, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is the very antithesis of his fiery predecessor, but his unprecedented diplomatic overtures have prompted rumblings of unease back home.
Since coming to power in September, Ghani has sought to jumpstart long-stalled negotiations with the Taliban for a peace agreement 13 years after they were toppled in a US-led invasion.
Ghani has courted Washington to slow the drawdown of US troops and longtime nemesis Pakistan, which has historically backed the Taliban, in what observers say is a calculated gambit to pressure the insurgents to the negotiating table.
But he walks a tightrope with conservatives, including some within his own fractious national unity government, who are distrustful of Pakistan and wary of Kabul being seen as too obsequious to Washington.
Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, well known for his anti-US and anti-Pakistan tirades, and others have warned strongly against Afghanistan's tilt towards Islamabad -- often accused of playing a "double game" and covertly nurturing the Taliban.
Ghani, an American-educated former World Bank official who uses a more measured tone, has offered unprecedented concessions to Pakistan including cooperation on military and intelligence matters.
He sent Afghan cadets to study at the Pakistani military academy and reportedly suspended Karzai's long-standing order for heavy arms from India, whose influence in Afghanistan has long made Pakistan wary.
"On the need to have a rapprochement with Pakistan, there are two sceptical constituencies: One that does not see any substance in Pakistan's policies and predicts the recurrence of 'business as usual' in coming months," said Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies.
"The second constituency worries about the cost of rapprochement with Pakistan. Would Afghanistan give up its democratic constitutional process to create space for the Taliban? Would it mean giving up its independent foreign policy? Would Afghanistan become Pakistan's (captive) market and passage to Central Asia?"
"Ghani has to address both constituencies," Moradian told AFP.
Islamabad insists that both countries have shared goals in defeating terrorism and Ghani believes its support is crucial in persuading the Taliban to enter peace talks as well as denying them safe havens on Pakistani soil.
Ghani has cited a massacre by Pakistan's Taliban at a school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar in December that killed 153 people, mostly children, as helping to bring the two governments closer together.
"Terrorists neither require passports nor recognise nationalities," Ghani said during his landmark US visit last week.
"I'm hopeful that we will have sufficient wisdom not to sink but to swim together," he added.