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Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Afghan Leader Hails New U.S. Strategy, Urges Pakistan To Change Policy

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In an address to the nation, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has hailed the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and called on neighboring Pakistan to change its approach toward his country, saying an unstable Afghanistan does not benefit anyone.

Ghani thanked U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration in the August 23 speech, saying that “after deep discussions, comprehensive evaluations, and fundamental debates, they came up with a strategy in which, God willing, our well-being and interests will be secured.”

Don’t forget that Afghanistan is not only the front line of the war, but it also is the first bastion for [safeguarding] the world’s security, he added. This is where our mutual interests meet.”

Ghani also sent a message to Islamabad, which Kabul and Washington have long accused of harboring the Afghan Taliban and providing sanctuaries for terrorists inside Pakistan — a claim it denies.

“We, as a government, seek peace with the state of Pakistan and look for lasting peace,” the Afghan president said.

“A destabilized Afghanistan does not benefit anyone, it would particularly have a negative impact on Pakistan,” he added. “Today, there is a consensus that Pakistan should think over its past methods, and this is an opportunity.”

During his first formal address to the nation on August 21, Trump backtracked from his campaign pledge to end the United States’ longest war as he appeared to commit the country to an open-ended conflict in Afghanistan.

However, he sidestepped an announcement on U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan, saying he would not “talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.”

The U.S. president also warned that Washington will no longer tolerate Pakistan offering “safe havens” to extremist groups such as the Afghan Taliban.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson later said that the United States could consider punishing Pakistan or cutting off its status as a major non-NATO ally if Islamabad doesn’t crack down on terrorist groups.

“There’s been an erosion in trust because we have witnessed terrorist organizations being given safe haven inside of Pakistan to plan and carry out attacks against U.S. servicemen, U.S. officials, disrupting peace efforts inside of Afghanistan,” Tillerson told reporters on August 22.

Pakistan is one of 16 countries to currently enjoy “major non-NATO ally” status, which allows close military cooperation.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif added his voice to a chorus of indignation in the country over the U.S. criticism, saying, “They should not make Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures in Afghanistan.”

Asif told Geo TV late on August 22 that Pakistan’s commitment to war against terrorism was “unshaken” and dismissed the notion the United States could “win the war against terror by threatening us or cornering us.”

At a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan on August 23, Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said that peace in Afghanistan is as important for Pakistan than any other country, the military said in a statement.

We have done a lot towards that end and shall keep on doing our best, he added.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan have been rocky in recent years amid U.S. counterterrorism operations along the Afghan-Pakistani border and the secret U.S. raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil in 2011.

In his address, Ghani also urged the resurgent Taliban to join the peace process, saying they must forget about winning the war and bringing down the government in Kabul.

He said that continuing the fight would lead to the killing of more Afghans without any other achievement, adding, “The solution is a political solution.”

Highlighting the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan, officials in the volatile southern province of Helmand said a suicide bombing killed at least five people — including children, women, and soldiers — and wounded dozens of others on August 23.

Omar Zhwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives in a parking lot near the main police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.

Provincial police chief Abdul Ghafar Safai said the explosion hit police officers and soldiers who had gathered to collect their pay.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The Pentagon has recommended sending nearly 4,000 new troops to Afghanistan, where the United States currently maintains 8,400 soldiers.

About 5,000 non-U.S. NATO forces are also still in the country, but Britain and other European allies have pledged additional contributions to the alliance’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

On August 23, France joined other members of the alliance in welcoming the United States’ continued commitment in Afghanistan, with the Foreign Ministry saying Paris shares the determination of the Afghan authorities and our allies to fight against [terrorism].

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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