WASHINGTON: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Wednesday that the so-called Islamic State militants were sending advance guards to the Pak-Afghan region to assess vulnerabilities.
In his address to the US Congress, Mr Ghani also thanked the American public and the US military for making “great sacrifices” to help his country.
He said that terrorist movements, whose goal was to destabilise every state in the region, were looking for new bases of operation.
Afghanistan, he said, was the frontline, but the terrorists neither recognised boundaries nor required passports to spread their messages of hate and discord.
“From the west, Daesh is already sending advance guards to southern and western Afghanistan to test for vulnerabilities,” warned the Afghan leader.
“To the south, Pakistan’s counter-insurgency operations, in which more than 40,000 people have already died, are pushing the Taliban from South Waziristan towards Afghanistan’s border regions.”
Since President Ghani has replaced Hamid Karzai, who had developed serious differences with the United States, he was received warmly at all the places he visited during his four-day visit to the United States.
At Congress, Vice President Joe Biden joined senior Republican and Democrat leaders in welcoming him.
“I would like to begin by thanking the people of the United States, whose generous support for my country has been of such immense value in advancing the cause of freedom,” said the Afghan president, earning a warm response from the lawmakers.
Obama urges Taliban to renounce violence
“We owe a profound debt to the 2,315 servicemen and women killed and the more than 20,000 who have been wounded in service to your country and ours.
President Ghani said that Afghanistan had been the frontline of the global battle against extremism and protecting the country from the extremists would benefit the entire world, including the United States.
He criticised his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, for refusing to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States.
“Due to the refusal of our previous government … we had lost momentum and both partners had to operate under uncertainty, resulting in some eight months of lost time in the most critical moment of transition,” he said.
“You could have used this opportunity to end the partnership and return home in frustration. But you did not. Thanks to the flexibility.”
Stressing the need to build a self-reliant Afghanistan, President Ghani said that the ecology of terror bedeviling Afghanistan “could not have formed without some states tolerating, financing, providing sanctuary, and using violent, non-state actors as instruments of short-sighted policies.”
He said that terrorists groups posed a clear and present danger to Afghanistan and its neighbours, to the Arab-Islamic world, and to the world at large.
Mr Ghani said that Afghanistan was carrying forward everyone’s fight by containing this threat and its people had rejected the allure of violent Islam. “But sooner or later extremism will come knocking at our door,” warned the Afghan leader while urging the international community to unite in the fight against this dangerous form of violence.
BOLD LEADERSHIP: Afghan president had shown “bold leadership” in reaching out to Pakistan, said US President Barack Obama, hoping that this move would lead to reconciliation with the Taliban.
US Secretary of State John Kerry also noted that Afghan President Ghani understood Pakistan “pretty well”.
Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan have improved rapidly since September 2009 when Mr Ghani came to power and declared that there could be no peace in the region if relations between the two neighbouring states remained tense.
At a joint news conference with the Afghan leader, President Obama underlined this positive development while underscoring the need for a political settlement in Afghanistan.
“The best way to ensure Afghanistan’s progress is a political settlement -- we’re going to continue to support an Afghan-led reconciliation process,” he said.
And then turning to the Afghan leader, the US leader said: “President Ghani, you’ve shown bold leadership in reaching out to Pakistan, which is critical to the pursuit of peace.”
The United States believes that Pakistan can play a key role in persuading the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal with Kabul.
Secretary Kerry also noticed Mr Ghani’s link to Pakistan at a dinner he hosted on Tuesday for the Afghan leader.
“Dr Ashraf Ghani, who, when he was a professor at Johns Hopkins, actually went the other way and on a Fulbright went to study, of all places, Pakistan. So this is a president who understands his neighbour pretty well,” he said.
President Obama, however, also reminded the Taliban that they must renounce violence if they wanted a peaceful settlement.
“Afghanistan and the United States agree on what the Taliban must do, which is break with Al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws, including protections for women and minorities,” he said.
President Obama, who on Tuesday agreed to delay the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan on President Ghani’s request, said that “reconciliation and a political settlement remain the surest way to achieve the full drawdown of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan.”
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2015