Lambasting Pakistan for its support to terrorism, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday said time has come for Islamabad to make a clear choice, suggesting the country may have to pay a price under the US’s new South Asia policy if it does not stop backing the terror groups.
On the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he mentioned about the sovereignty issue raised by India and said if Afghanistan was not given transit access to Wagah and Attari for trade with India via Pakistan, then Kabul will also restrict Islamabad’s access to central Asia.
Hailing India’s role in Afghanistan, he said the new US policy was an important tribute to the importance of New Delhi in bringing peace and stability to the region, hit by the spectre of terror.
Ghani was delivering an address at Vivekananda International Foundation, attended by a select gathering of a number of foreign envoys, former diplomats and strategic affairs experts.
Identifying terrorism as a major challenge facing the region, Ghani, in a clear reference to Pakistan, said unfettered support is being provided to the terror groups which are destabilising the entire region. “Sanctuaries are provided, logistics are provided, training is provided, ideological base is provided... Pakistan has come to a juncture and it needs to make a choice,” he said, asserting, “Our reaction will be determined by its choices.”
Talking about the peace process, Ghani suggested that he does not ignore India’s role in bringing peace and stability to the war-ravaged country. He said the next round of Kabul process will be held in January next year. He said the South Asia strategy announced by the Trump administration was a “game changer” as it recommends multi- dimensional condition-based approach for the region. “It (the strategy) singled out India for engagement in this approach,” he said.
Asked about defence cooperation with India, he referred to supply of four attack helicopters to Afghan Air Force by India.
“Our collaboration with India is very open. We are delighted with the four helicopters. More Mi 35 helicopters are welcome,” he said refusing to elaborate further.
The Afghan president also rejected suspicion in Islamabad that India and Afghanistan have joined hands against Pakistan.
“There is no secret agreement between Afghanistan and India. There are no secret Indian facilities. There is no destabilisation of any neighbours from Afghanistan taking place through implicit or explicit collusion. Let’s get out of the word of fiction,” he said.
Ghani also talked about announcement of USD 1 billion package to Afghanistan last year by India, saying it was like contribution of USD one dollar by every Indian to his country. Talking about the fragile peace process in Afghanistan, he said efforts will be to win the war morally.
“We would like to see a push back from Pakistan vis-a-vis Taliban and not a Pakistan-managed peace process with the Taliban. We want peace with Pakistan and that is a fundamental issue for our stability,” said the Afghan president. Seen as a message to Pakistan, he said if the “hand of peace” is rejected, then he was “ready to serve with honour as the commander in chief to the last breath into the last drop of blood”.
Indicating hostilities against Afghanistan by Pakistan, Ghani, in a lighter vein, said Afghanistan cannot exit its neighbourhood as its like a Catholic marriage. He said lack of a regional consensus has eluded peace and stability in Afghanistan and rued about “fragmented response” to terrorism.
“Our objective is to pursue the goal of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan within the context of a stable and peaceful region,” he said.
Ghani said connectivity was key for integration of the Asian economy and all stakeholders must work unitedly to realise the true potential of trade and commerce of the region.
“We are clear, we want to be what we call an Asian roundabout. This is important for integration of the Asian economy,” he said.
Ghani also quoted poet Iqbal and said Afghanistan is at the heart of the region and peace in the country will translate into peace in the entire region.