Tue, 16 Jul 2019

Afghan Officials Downplay Feud with Washington

Voice of America
20 Mar 2019, 13:29 GMT+10

An Afghan official in the countrys National Security Council Tuesday downplayed a Reuters report alleging that senior U.S. diplomats have informed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that his national security adviser is no longer welcome in Washington following his blistering public attacks on the U.S Special Representative for Afghan reconciliation last week.

Abasin Barial, an adviser for strategic relations at the Afghan National Security Council, told VOA that the U.S. and Afghanistan enjoy close relations based on common interests.

We want to have very good and very close relations with the U.S. [because] we have common goals and objectives. It is very clear that during the last four years, the government of President [Ashraf] Ghani had the best relations with the U.S. government, Barial told VOA.

About the Reuters story, I think it is limited to this media outlet. I do not think it has relied that much on the actual issues that U.S. [officials] have discussed regarding this matter. I think we will see more of such analysis and comments [in the media], he added.

Last week, Afghan National Security Advisor, Hamdullah Mohib criticized U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad over what he said was his approach of keeping the Afghan government in dark in the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

'We don't have the kind of transparency that we should have,' he said. 'The last people to find out are us.' Mohib told reporters Thursday.

'The reason he is delegitimizing the Afghan government and weakening it, and at the same time elevating the Taliban, can only have one approach. Perhaps all this talk is to create a caretaker government of which he [Khalilzad] will become the viceroy. We are only saying this because that is the perception, Mohib added.

U.S. Response

Robert Palladino, the deputy spokesperson of the State Department told media on Thursday that David Hale, the U.S undersecretary for political affairs, summoned Mohib and rejected his attacks on the U.S. approach to Afghanistan reconciliation.

Palladino said Hale reiterated to the Afghan official that Khalilzad represented Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 'and that attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad are attacks on the department and only serve to hinder the bilateral relationship and the peace process.'

The spokesperson also said that Hale 'expressed our commitment to the Afghan governments stability and full participation in the peace process.'

A day after Mohibs comments, Undersecretary Hale told Ghani by phone that Mohib would no longer be received in Washington and U.S. civilian and military officials would not do business with him, Reuters reported, citing sources.

Hale called Ghani and told him that Mohib is no longer welcome in D.C. The U.S. will not deal with him in Kabul or in D.C. anymore, a former senior Afghan official told Reuters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Reactions

Reactions are mixed regarding Mohibs comments with some in Afghanistan applauding him for making his governments concerns heard and others criticizing him for jeopardizing strategic ties with a key ally at a crucial time.

The statement made by the National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib in the U.S. certainly was not diplomatic, Haroon Mir, a Kabul-based political analyst told VOA.

But it certainly translated the frustration that the Afghan government has vis-a-vis the negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban and the government felt humiliated that it was kept in the dark, Mir added.

Thomas Johnson, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and author of Taliban Narratives echoed Mirs assessment in saying Mohibs comments are not in his best interest. But, he added that the Afghan officials have the right to make statements.

Ambassador Mohib is a young diplomat, and diplomats often make mistakes. So it might not be in his best interest to make some of the statements but he has the right to make statements, Johnson said.

Afghanistan is not a colony of the United States and valid and senior Afghan leaders should be able to voice their concerns over how the peace talks are going especially considering that they are not part of the peace talks, Johnson added.

Jason Campbell, a policy researcher at Rand Corporation, a U.S. think tank, however believes that Mohib put the U.S. in an awkward position with his comments.

Even if he or the Afghan government harbored suspicions about Ambassador Khalilzad, these were better voiced behind closed doors and with evidence, Campbell said.

The U.S. government was put in a very awkward position and it is not surprising that officials ultimately decided to no longer communicate through Mohib on this subject, even though he was likely acting at least in large part on guidance from the ARG [Afghan Presidential Palace], Campbell added.

Campbell said Mohibs comments reflect a misunderstanding on the part of the Afghan government about where U.S. strategy currently stands on the issue.

Miscalculation?

Some experts like Waheed Muzhda, a Kabul-based political analyst charge that the Afghan government miscalculated the move and did not anticipate the blow back.

I think Mr. Ghani and Mr. Mohib did not have a good idea of the current situation. They were not expecting this much of a reaction. They thought a criticism would be made about the U.S. policies regarding excluding the Afghan government from negotiations and this issue would be address as a grievance and it would not be taken as seriously by the U.S, Muzhda said.

Analyst Mir said Washington is an irreplaceable ally for Kabul implying that the latter should recognize the importance of the former.

No other country or a coalition of the regional countries would be able to fill the vacuum of the U.S. in Afghanistan, either in terms of its military assistance or financial assistance in the country. Mir said.

VOAs Jeff Seldin contributed to this story.

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