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Sunday May 03 2020

Blog: Coronavirus becomes a lease of life for Afghan president

Coronavirus has killed over 200,000 people, across the world. At the same time, it’s devastating impact is eroding the popularity of many leaders. However, Ashraf Ghani regime has taken advantage of this pandemic to keep clinging to power in war-torn Afghanistan.

Instead of saving Doha deal, Ashraf Ghani is finding excuses to distract attention and delay the implementation. Had he abided by the agreement in its letter and spirit, almost all the prisoners on each side would have been freed. And, talks to form an inclusive government started.

Yet, the self-centred politician is issuing hollow statements in Ramadan to observe the ceasefire. By doing this, the self-proclaimed president is trying to befool his nation. He knows well what exactly is required to silence guns and start intra-Afghan talks.

So far, Kabul has reluctantly released 361 out of 5000 Taliban detainees. Quite cunningly, the regime has made sure that not a single significant militant is set free. He least cares of the consequences if some Taliban prisoners die of Coronavirus in detention.

No surprise that the Taliban are paying back in the same coin. Out of 1000 prisoners, they have set only 60 of them free. Majority of them are civilians- least taken care of by each side. This one step forward and two steps backwards approach is disastrous.

This egocentric policy has caused more bloodshed across the country. Fearless and ruthless than ever, Taliban are spectacularly pounding position of Afghan security forces and gaining more ground by every passing day.

This continued infighting has the potential to draw the United States back in the active firefight. On one hand, Washington has to protect Afghan forces and on the other, save the nascent deal. So far, it’s successfully walking on the tight rope.

But, the Taliban had higher expectations from their new partners in peace. They have started accusing the US of relentless bombing and drone attacks that have left a number of their colleagues dead.

Washington has also not come up to their expectations in helping release their comrades. To them, it's alarming that coronavirus has started affecting dozens of prisoners across Afghanistan. With extremely poor health conditions in jails, they fear pandemic can spread like a wildfire.

This is exactly the scenario President Ashraf Ghani is desperately looking for. He is waiting for anything that sabotages the deal and revitalises his role. After all, he is under pressure to enter into comprehensive talks with the arch-rival Abdullah Abdullah and accommodate the Taliban.

Any of the two steps will weaken his bargaining chip and further erode authority. So, he is taking solace in distracting the world. Like his predecessor, Ashraf Ghani is also bent upon criticising Pakistan- the very country that facilitated the deal by converging the diverging forces.

Crowned by the US, Ghani is left with little appeal to other regional giants as well. China, Russia or Iran are convinced that he can’t deliver anything but big promises. So, they are viewing his actions with scepticism and waiting to see how things unfold next.

Yet, neighbours’ indignation hardly matters for Ghani. He only counts the US on his side. With the pandemic wreaking havoc across America, Ghani has time, however short, on his side. So, he is in no hurry to make peace moves.

His supporter-in-chief is also busy facing the daunting task of dealing with over a million coronavirus cases and 60,000 deaths. A deep recession is only another thing on President Trump’s mind as there are signs that this health crisis and its impacts can cost his re-election.

With President of the United States embroiled in his own domestic issues and Ghani playing games, the field is wide open for Daesh in Afghanistan. The militant organization is spreading its tentacles and showing monstrous presence even in the capital.

The group has recently claimed responsibility for attacking Sikh Gurdwara in the heart of Afghanistan that left 25 people dead. The inhabitants of Kabul had hardly taken relief from frightening attacks of Taliban when they woke up to even more gruesome reality.

It’s irony that actions against Daesh are widening the gulf between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The capture of its leader Abdullah Orakzai should have become a point of cooperation between the two countries. Instead, Kabul is adamant over his extradition.

This single incident has the potential to further widen the gulf between the two countries that already harbour a huge trust deficit. With an Afghan government leaning more and more towards India, any uncalculated move has the potential to explode a can of worm.

It’s time Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad must redouble his efforts to make Ghani realise the importance of peace and relations with Pakistan. Offering him carrots simply won’t work. And, any further delay in starting intra-Afghan talks will spill more blood and strengthen Daesh.

True, that the US is exiting Afghanistan after saving its face. But, the country must not be left as a breeding ground for future controversies and bloodshed. Unfortunately, this is the only certainty in the land of utter uncertainty.