Standing a few feet away from the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on stage in the Central and South Asia connectivity conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused Pakistan of maintaining cordial ties with the Taliban. Ghani said that 10,000 ‘jihadi’ militants had crossed into Afghanistan from the Pakistani border.
A two-day meeting of around 250 participants and 40 delegates titled “Central and South Asia Regional Connectivity: Challenges and Opportunities” is being held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani are present at the meeting.
The two-day conference began on Friday where both Ashraf Ghani and Imran Khan addressed the gathering. In a hard-hitting speech, Ghani pointed fingers at Pakistan for its “negative role” in the Afghan peace process. He said that more than 10,000 jihadis had crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan.
“Contrary to repeated assurances by Prime Minister Khan and his Generals that Pakistan does not find a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in Pakistan’s interest and short of the use of force will use its power and influence to make the Taliban negotiate seriously, networks and organizations supporting the Taliban are openly celebrating the destruction of the assets and capabilities of the Afghan people and State”, Ghani said.
Speaking shortly after the Afghan president, Khan expressed “disappointment” and said that Ghani’s accusations on Pakistan are “unfair.” He said that Pakistan has utilized every option at its disposal, other than the use of brute force, to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations. “President Ghani let me just say that the country that will be most affected by turmoil in Afghanistan is Pakistan. Pakistan suffered 70,000 casualties in the last 15 years. The last thing Pakistan wants is more conflict”, Khan said.
The Pakistani premier recriminated the Afghan government for their belated response towards a peace settlement. “When there were 150,000 Nato troops […] that was the time to ask the Taliban to come to the table. Why were the Taliban going to compromise once the exit date was given […] why would they listen to us when they are sensing victory”, Khan said.
“To blame Pakistan for what is going on in Afghanistan is extremely unfair.”
Pakistan also postponed the Afghan peace moot which was to be held in Islamabad from July 17 to 19 after Ashraf Ghani and Imran Khan met at the sidelines of the conference in Tashkent. ISI Chief Lt General Faiz Hameed was also in attendance.
According to Pakistani officials, Ashraf Ghani requested the postponement of the conference, saying that he needed more time. Khan expressed disappointment over the postponement and said that time was running out and urgent steps were needed for a quick political settlement.
Ghani, however, was adamant about his demands and reportedly refused to send his delegation. In face of this opposition, the Pakistani government had to relent and the meeting was postponed. A new date for the conference will be announced soon, said a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s role in a political settlement in Afghanistan has been repeatedly criticized by the Afghan officials, who blame Islamabad/GHQ for puppeteering the Taliban in Afghanistan.
A few days ago, the Taliban took control of the Spin Baldok-Chaman crossing, the second busiest route to Afghanistan that accounts for 30% of the country’s trade, at the Pak-Afghan border and raised their flag.
Amrullah Saleh, the Vice-President of Afghanistan, claimed on social media that the Afghan forces trying to retake the crossing are being threatened by the Pakistani airforce to back off. He said that the Pakistani forces have warned their Afghan counterparts of engaging in any offensive against the Taliban.
Pakistani authorites have denied these allegations, saying that such accusations “undermine Pakistan’s sincere efforts to play its part in an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led solution.”