By Hazrat Bahar
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani sarcastically rejected $500 million in aid offered by Pakistan during the sixth Heart of Asia ministerial conference in Amritsar, India.
During his speech, President Ghani directly addressed Sartaj Aziz, an advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Foreign Affairs, saying, “Pakistan has generously pledged 500 million dollars for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This fund, Mr. Aziz, could very well be used for containing extremism, because without peace any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of our people.”
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan were initially friendly when Ashraf Ghani first took office in late 2014. He visited the Army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi; long-demanding Afghan army cadets were sent to Pakistan for training; and the heads of army and intelligence organizations exchanged numerous trips.
On the other hand, Indo-Afghan relations were not a first priority for Afghanistan, which Pakistan had always wanted. Indeed, such an unprecedented move by the Afghan president to befriend some Pakistani army generals antagonized most of his close allies and inside supporters.
Apparently, Ghani was trying a more practical approach vis-à-vis Pakistan and expected reciprocity; the biggest among other things was to bring the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal with the Afghan government. Pakistan managed to do so by orchestrating the Murree meeting where some Taliban members sat and talked with Afghan government though the Taliban Doha office, although it did not formally confirm this. This was followed by a surprised announcement by the Taliban supreme leader Mohammad Omar’s demise, who passed away almost two years ago.
Both countries blamed each other for leaking and making the demise public because it blocked the ongoing negotiations. Whoever did it is one issue, but the announcement was rational enough as otherwise it could also endanger the whole process. The leadership crisis among the Taliban was an example of why the announcement was kept secret.
After such a nascent attempt, no further development has been made though expectations were high for a quadrilateral coordination group (Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US).
Domestic pressure mounted, casualties of both civil and military outnumbered past figures, security situations deteriorated and Ghani’s expectations from Pakistan started withering. His actions and concessions weren’t reciprocated, but went almost unnoticed in Pakistan.
President Ghani was left alone with almost no other option. Those who had been questioning Ghani’s appeasing, or what they called ‘carrots but no stick’ approach, towards Pakistan proved to have rational and logical arguments.
It was on this backdrop that Ashraf Ghani took a tough stance and rejected Pakistan’s aid at the Heart of Asia conference, as this was an opportunity to demonstrate his disappointment and meanwhile let Pakistan to do much more to prove to be a good counterpart.
Such frustration has caused anti-Pakistan sentiment both regionally and domestically. This seems to be the reason that Ghani’s remarks and stance were applauded.
Speaker of lower house in Afghan parliament Mr. Abdul Rauf said that what President Ashraf Ghani expressed was a shared pain of all Afghans. Ex-head of Afghan intelligence also thanked Afghan president for declining what he termed “blood soaked money.”
A heated debate within Pakistan and its media is running over if it was a right decision to participate at the conference, since Afghanistan had already boycotted the SAARC summit scheduled in November in Islamabad.
Pakistan may have – at least for now- understood what President Ashraf Ghani expectations were when he first took office. Its envoy Sartaj Aziz, who participated and represented Pakistan at the conference, while criticizing the Afghan president added “His [Ashraf Ghani] statement is understandable. One can clearly understand his anxiety.”
Hazrat Bahar tweets @hazratbahar