KABUL (Rahnuma) : Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s outbursts about being sidelined from peace talks have backfired, with the US slapping down his national security adviser, and a spike in tension between the two governments.
Ghani insists that the peace process to end the conflict must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, but his officials have been excluded from key meetings in Doha and Moscow. He has been left out at the insistence of the Taliban, which sees his administration as a puppet of the West.
US President Donald Trump has spoken of his desire to ensure a complete pullout of US troops, appointing Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad to initiate discussions with the Taliban for a peace process.
But Ghani is irritated by the isolation and has vocalized his resentment, with his National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib provoking the US with incendiary remarks.
Mohib told reporters in Washington that a US-Taliban peace deal would “dishonor” the troops killed during the war with the armed group, and accused Khalilzad of being a “viceroy” who had designs on leading an interim government in Kabul.
But the tactic backfired. The US State Department said it summoned Mohib and said his attacks on Khalilzad could hurt bilateral relations and the peace process.
According to Afghan and US media reports, Mohib has been barred from future dealings with US officials and could even be barred from entering the US.
It was also reported that a US official walked out of a meeting with NATO members after spotting Mohib.
One Afghan official, requesting anonymity, said Mohib’s comments were like “playing with a lion’s tail.”
“You cannot deal with a superpower which feeds your army and created your government this way,” the official told Arab News.
The US helped bring Ghani to power and has been bankrolling Kabul and its military for 17 years.
The tension with Washington is a new challenge — and a major headache — for Ghani who wants to stand for re-election. But he has lost some of his inner circle and has had rocky ties in recent months with Afghanistan’s powerful neighbors.
“It was more of an attack versus constructive feedback,” lawmaker Zakia Wardak told Arab News. “We cannot attack allies, we need to behave as professionals. Unfortunately, our concerns were not shared properly with the US … although the reasons are legitimate, how it is delivered is just as important as the message.”
Many believe that the discussions in Qatar between the Taliban and the US could pave the way for a breakthrough in the near future.
“The talks in Doha will overshadow everything, mainly the election,” Afghan analyst Zabihullah Pakteen told Arab News.
“The presidential election is becoming increasingly unlikely with the question rising of who is going to pay for the election? The US seems to be preoccupied with Doha talks and see it as the priority,” he said.
Palace officials declined to comment as to how it wants and can defuse the tension with Washington.
One pro-Ghani lawmaker, Gul Padshah Majidi, even suggested that Ghani needed to find other partners in the region in case tension with Washington increased further.