Afghan President Ashraf Ghani voiced confidence on Monday on reaching a peace deal to end the Taliban insurgency—but warned Pakistan’s alleged meddling risked sparking long-term hostility.
“I feel that it is now not a question of if, but when,” Ghani said of a peace agreement in a wide-ranging appearance by video at Johns Hopkins University, where he was formerly a professor. “All wars have to end politically. There are very few wars, particularly the wars of the 21st century, that are going to end militarily,” he said.
Ghani, who is running for re-election next year, said he was offering unconditional talks and pointed to an unprecedented ceasefire with the Taliban in June as a hopeful sign.
Taliban representatives recently met in Qatar with an envoy from the United States, which is eager for a way out of its longest-ever war, launched in 2001 after the September 11 attacks.
“There is total agreement between the U.S. government and Afghan government to move the peace process forward,” Ghani said, while stressing that Kabul rather than Washington would lead the negotiations. “I am committed to this, to make it happen, because it is a demand of the society.” But Ghani voiced disappointment over Pakistan, which was the chief supporter of the former Taliban regime. U.S. and Afghan officials claim Pakistan still allows Taliban extremists to operate from its soil.
Ghani said that last month’s killing of senior Afghan general Abdul Raziq, by a shooter who Kabul says trained in Pakistan, has “brought an intense level of distrust.”
“We equally offer peace to Pakistan to put an end to the undeclared state of hostilities between our two countries,” Ghani said. “Should peace not prevail, my other prediction, that the two societies would go to a state of mutual distrust and increasing cultural and social hostility resembling France and Germany of 1870-1914, is likely to happen,” he said.
He was referring to the period from a resurgent Germany’s victory in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War through the outbreak of World War I, amid global commemorations Monday for the end of the “Great War.”
Ghani praised the approach of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has severed military aid to Pakistan. The Afghan leader said he had not seen a “substantive and measurable change” from Pakistan under its new prime minister, Imran Khan, a cricket star who has long supported negotiations with the Taliban.
Pakistan denies charges of supporting the Taliban, noting that it has suffered internally from extremist violence and provides vital logistical support to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Ghani said he wanted assurances in any peace deal that the Taliban, if laying down their arms, were not simply “going to be replaced by another state-sponsored group.” But he said the government was open to discuss any issues with the Taliban.
“The key is that there is no question that is off the table,” he said.
Ghani said he had studied more than 100 peace deals around the world for lessons. He said he wanted to avoid the experience of Central America, which found “peace but not security,” with war giving way to rampant crime.
The Afghan president pointed to the brief June ceasefire as proof of the possibilities, saying that Taliban fighters willingly halted fighting and were able to move about unmolested despite years of bad blood. “Certain societies in very difficult moments of transition need a degree of historical amnesia. Over focus on the past could cost us the future,” he said.