Kabul recalls envoy after Pakistan PM’s suggestion for interim govt

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul. (AP)
Updated 09 April 2019

Kabul recalls envoy after Pakistan PM’s suggestion for interim govt

  • Islamabad says premier’s comments ‘misinterpreted’
  • The ministry expressed its grave objection and described Khan’s comments as “reckless”

KABUL: Afghanistan recalled its ambassador from Pakistan on Wednesday, a day after its premier suggested the creation of an interim government in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also called on Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s government not to be an obstacle in the peace talks between the Taliban and the US.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry in a statement issued on Wednesday said that it had summoned its senior Pakistani diplomat in Kabul to protest against Khan’s remarks, which were published in the Pakistani media. 

The ministry expressed its grave objection and described Khan’s comments as “reckless.” 

“The statements about the peace process and the establishment of an interim government are deemed as an obvious example of Pakistan’s interventional policy and disrespect to the national sovereignty and determination of the people of Afghanistan,” it said.

Kabul’s ambassador to Pakistan, Atif Mashal, in a statement sent to reporters, said that he was heading home after the move.

“I have been called back by my government for consultation and in protest at the remarks by the PM of Pakistan in relation to the formation of a new interim government, which is a clear attempt of interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan,” he said.

US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad called Khan’s comments unconstructive, even as Washington steps ups its efforts with the Taliban to find a peaceful settlement to the Afghan conflict.

Speaking to Pakistani journalists on Monday, Khan said that the formation of an interim Afghan government would help to streamline the peace talks between US and Taliban officials since the militant group refuses to speak with representatives from the government.

In the published comments, Khan also described Ghani’s government as a “hurdle in the peace process.” Khan’s comments caused an outcry in Afghanistan, with Khalilzad praising Pakistan for its role in the peace process but calling Khan’s comments unproductive.

“While #Pakistan has made constructive contributions on the #AfghanPeaceProcess, PM Khan’s comments did not. The future of #Afghanistan is for #Afghans, and only Afghans, to decide. The role of the international community is to encourage Afghans to come together so they can do so,” he said in a tweet.

Many Afghans, including Ghani’s arch-rival in the presidential race, Haneef Atmar — who has been pushing for the formation of an interim administration when Ghani’s term ends in late May — criticized Khan’s suggestion.

Khan’s reported comments come two weeks after he said that peace will be restored in Afghanistan and that a friendly government will be created in Kabul soon. His comments had irked Kabul at the time too, with analysts saying that the latest statements may further sour the already uneasy ties between the two neighbors.

“Imran Khan’s proposal about the formation of an interim government in Afghanistan is a flagrant and direct interference of Pakistan in Afghanistan, and naturally would further worsen relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Zubair Shafiqi, an analyst and prominent Afghan writer, told Arab News.

US ambassador to Kabul, John R. Bass, in a statement on Tuesday, said that Imran Khan needed to resist cricket-style “ball tampering with the #Afghanistan peace process and its internal affairs.”

Following the anger from Kabul and Khalilzad’s remarks, Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Tuesday said that Khan’s comments were “misinterpreted.”

Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a commentator who runs a think-tank, said that the statements could also have an impact on the people of the two countries.

“Such remarks can trouble relations among governments which affect their people directly,” he told Arab News.

He said that Ghani may try to use Khan’s comments to shame those of his rivals who have been also pushing for the formation of an interim set-up. “Ghani politicizes Imran Khan’s remarks and seeks to weaken his political oppositions.” 

Shafiqi said that Ghani may exploit the comments in his favor after being sidelined from all rounds of secret talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban, which have been held mostly in Doha, and will now push to be engaged in direct talks with the Taliban — not as part of a group of Afghans as demanded by the Taliban.

But he said that it cannot help Ghani to fill a legal and constitutional void that will be created when his tenure comes to an end in May and with the new date for elections set for Sept. 28.

The polls have twice been delayed, largely due to inefficiency in the government. Ghani, who wants to take charge of peace talks with the Taliban, has not spoken about what will happen and what he will do when his term ends in May.

In Washington, the State Department said that Khalilzad, following his tour of several nations, will head to Afghanistan for talks with Afghan rulers about the state of US and Taliban talks.

“In Kabul, the Special Representative will consult with the Afghan government and other Afghans about the status of US talks with the Taliban, encourage efforts to form an inclusive negotiating team, and discuss next steps in the intra-Afghan discussions and negotiations.”

Khalilzad is expected to have another round of talks with the Taliban in Doha to discuss the vital part of the talks he had with the group in recent months, which involve the pullout of foreign troops and a guarantee from the Taliban that Afghan soil will not be used as a base for an attack against any country.

His trip to Kabul comes weeks after Ghani’s National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib publicly accused him in Washington of trying to negotiate with the Taliban to advance his own political career with the formation of an interim government, which he said the Afghan-born diplomat wants to lead.

Mohib was summoned by the State Department, which protested against him. The US has barred him from traveling to America and Washington has reportedly said that it will not deal with Mohib any longer.

Some senior US officials on Monday reportedly left a meeting of NATO ambassadors at the Presidential Palace when they noticed that Mohib was also present at the event, sources from within and outside the government said on Tuesday, the private station, Tolo News reported.

Afghan officials refused to discuss, deny or comment on the Tolo report.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 13 October 2019

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

  • EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.