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Afghan President Hopefuls Talk About Pakistan

Posted by on Saturday, March 22, 2014, 10:13
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Underscoring Pakistan’s key role in the fragile Afghan peace process, front-runners in the country’s upcoming presidential elections are unanimous in maintaining good relations with their eastern neighbour.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah

Dr Abdullah Abdullah

Presidential hopefuls in a series of live television debates, media interviews and campaign video messages have highlighted Pakistan’s importance as a neighbour and its strong position for possible political reconciliation and bilateral economic progress.

Former foreign minister and President Hamid Karzai’s political rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah in a live debate recently stressed that enhanced economic, trade and cultural relations can help build trust with Pakistan.

“It is important that we improve our relations with neighbouring countries, including the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, bearing in mind our national interests and common threats,” Abdullah said while speaking at a debate on Tolo TV along with other presidential candidates.

At the same time, he pointed out that “If Pakistan has still not concluded that extremism and terrorism are a threat to their safety, I think it will be making an irreversible mistake.”

Similarly, a former finance minister and one of the leading candidates, Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai, advocated close relations with Pakistan.

“The two countries must achieve the level of cooperation France and Germany reached after the Second World War,” Ahmedzai said at the same debate. He said he was happy that Pakistan has concluded that its own stability is interlinked with Afghanistan.

Dr Rasoul, who has served as a foreign minister in Karzai’s cabinet and also as his national security adviser, describes relations with Pakistan as a very significant foreign policy issue.

Talking to the BBC Pashto radio in Kabul this month, he said if elected to power, he will order a review of relations between the two countries and maintain a relationship based on mutual respect of each other’s sovereignty.

“If there is no peace in Afghanistan, there will be no peace in Pakistan. I will be willing to work with Pakistan to counter the challenges of terrorism and extremism faced by it,” he said.

Discussing the Durand Line

Although Pakistan insists the nearly 2,640-kilometre border between the two countries, known as the Durand Line, is a closed chapter, for Afghans it is still an important topic. Nevertheless, key presidential candidates have adopted a positive approach on the matter during their campaign and have avoided using it as a political tool.

“We must not turn the issue into a matter of dispute and conflict,” Abdullah said when asked about his take on the Durand Line.

Ghani is also cautious on the issue and has avoided saying anything controversial in a video released as part of his election campaign.

“I am hopeful that the people on both sides will resolve the issue with consensus,” he has stated.

The Northern Alliance, which has traditionally been critical of Pakistan, also has a logical approach on the border issue.

Ahmad Zia Masood, who is now a vice-presidential candidate with Zalmai Rasoul, wants an amicable solution to the issue. “The people of Afghanistan want to have a border that is recognised internationally,” he was quoted by a section of the Afghan media at a recent speech.

Karzai’s anti-Pakistan tirade continues

Although candidates have adopted a cautious approach towards Pakistan, the outgoing president still seems upset with Islamabad’s alleged meddling in its affairs as he did not spare the country during his speech at parliament last week.

On March 15, during his last address at parliament, Karzai accused Pakistan of harbouring the Taliban leadership and killing those who wanted to join the peace process, particularly those aligned with Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim. “We know that Taliban leaders are living peacefully in Pakistan and enjoy the state’s protection,” he said.

Afghan analysts believe the remarks were meant as a face saving move by Karzai over his failure to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table during his 12-year-rule as vast swathes of the country are under the Taliban control and their dark shadow looms over Kabul.

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