President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani told senior US senators that Afghanistan does not take American support for granted. The Senators, led by the Chair of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain, were in Afghanistan following a trip to Pakistan. President Ghani said that the US and Afghanistan had a relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect. What was taking place was not a war in Afghanistan, but a war over Afghanistan against transnational terrorist organizations. And there were questions now as to whether the Taliban was a criminal organization with a political front rather than the other way round. Transnational crime and narcotics meant there had to be a regional solution.
The Senators agree with the need for a regional solution. Their visit comes at a time when the US is engaged in a fundamental review of Afghan policy, which looks at relationships across the region, as well as a potential increase in US troops. A number of other partners in the coalition of foreign forces in Afghanistan have already pledged troop increases.
The Senators said that the head of Pakistan’s armed forces, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, agreed to joint operations against terrorist groups in the Durrand line region. They said that the US would provide monitoring and verification of these operations.
President Ghani said ‘the peace we want comes with a cost. Reform is imperative, and that comes with a cost.’ He said the continued progress of Afghanistan was not inevitable, and it could go well or badly. He described recent reforms in the Ministry of Defense, with the generational change in leadership following the retirement of 150 generals, a new Minister and other key reforms that improved the capacity of Afghanistan to conduct military operations. He said that the reform process would now transform the Ministry of Interior which he recently called ‘the heart of corruption in the security sector.’
The President said that continued partnership with the US was vital to continue these reforms, and he said that the country would proceed with parliamentary elections, now scheduled for July 2018. He said that Afghan civil society would monitor the election process.
The President talked of the need to diversify Afghanistan’s trade links. He has recently signed several deals with northern neighbors to improve road and rail links, and with a new air bridge to India, and access to the sea via Chabahar port in Iran, Afghanistan is no longer dependent on Pakistan for trade and transit.
The Senate Party was led by Senator John McCain, who was accompanied by Senators Lindsey Graham, Elizabeth Warren, David Perdue, and Sheldon Whitehouse.