KABUL: Afghan presidential hopeful Ashraf Ghani says rapprochement with the Taliban’s old backers Pakistan, along the lines of France and Germany after World War II, is key to ending instability in his conflict-torn nation.
The race to succeed President Hamid Karzai has narrowed to a two-way fight between Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah following the release of early partial results on Sunday.
Former World Bank academic Ghani said he wants to end years of suspicion and mistrust with Pakistan and forge a “special relationship” with the nuclear power.
There is lasting bitterness among many Afghans at Pakistani interference in their country -- Islamabad historically supported groups in Afghanistan it regarded as favourable to its ends, including the Taliban during their 1996-2001 rule.
In an interview, Ghani said Afghanistan’s eastern neighbour had changed and a more harmonious relationship was critical for the region and the world.
“Pakistan is a different country. In the past, there was a distinction made between ‘Good Taliban’ and ‘Bad Taliban’,” he said, referring to Islamabad’s one-time backing of the militants in Afghanistan while clamping down on fighters at home.
But Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, elected in May 2013, “sees extremism as the fundamental challenge”, Ghani said.
“The goal is a special relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan that would resemble that of France and Germany after World War II,” he added.
As well as backing the Taliban regime before its fall in a US-led invasion in 2001, Pakistan is still believed to be sheltering the group’s leadership.
Both countries frequently accuse each other of supporting cross-border terror attacks, and Ghani’s position would mark a departure from their presently sour ties.
It sounds like an ambitious task but Afghanistan has already proven pessimists wrong, he said.
With Nato winding down combat operations, security for the April 5 vote was in the hands of Afghan forces and the relative peace of polling day demonstrated they were up to the task of tackling the Taliban, he said.
“When we began the (security) transition, every foreign commentator and most of the domestic actors were saying this was madness and that we were going to collapse,” Ghani said.
“No, our security forces fully exonerated themselves. The nation and the security forces are now aligned.”
Abdullah is seen as a seasoned political operator with an easy common touch.