KABUL —In an abrupt shift from his fence-mending outreach with Pakistan, a visibly angry Afghan President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at Pakistani leaders Monday for allegedly harboring Islamist insurgents carrying out deadly cross-border attacks.
Speaking to journalists in his palace — just hours after a suicide bomber struck outside Kabul’s international airport and days after a 24-hour blitz of attacks in the capital — Ghani all but declared that Pakistan was behind the Taliban-linked assaults and many others before them.
“Since I took office, Afghans have been waiting for Pakistan to show their tangible commitment” to peace, Ghani said, speaking in Afghan Pashto. “But attacks in the past two months and now in Kabul have shown us that it is still the same as the past. . . . The sanctuaries of the suicide attackers are still in Pakistan.”
Ghani, who spoke by phone Sunday night with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said he gave a “clear and positive” message to Sharif that “the continuation of this situation is not acceptable.”
Pakistan originally backed the Taliban and later sheltered many of its leaders after its repressive Islamist regime in Kabul was overthrown in 2001. When the militants regrouped, Afghan leaders repeatedly accused Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies of abetting their bloody campaign. Pakistan has always denied the charges.
Ghani, who took office last September in a U.S.-brokered deal with his top rival, had spent an enormous amount of political capital by reaching out to Pakistan in hopes of bringing Taliban leaders to peace negotiations. Until two weeks ago, that effort seemed to be paying off.
But in an abrupt turn of events, the Taliban revealed the 2013 death of its founder, Mohammad Omar, and canceled a round of peace talks scheduled in Pakistan. During a secret meeting in Pakistan, the Taliban then hastily chose a new leader, who immediately denounced the peace talks and vowed to continue waging war against the Western-backed Afghan state.
On Friday, in a brazen challenge to the Ghani government, the insurgents launched a flurry of attacks in the Afghan capital. They included a truck bomb explosion that destroyed several city blocks, a suicide bombing at the national police academy and a ground assault on a coalition base. At least 40 people were killed, almost all of them Afghan civilians, and 200 others were injured.
Then on Monday, a suicide bomber drove a vehicle packed with explosives to a busy roundabout at the entrance to Kabul’s international airport, detonating it just outside a police checkpoint. The blast killed five civilians and wounded at least 16 others, Kabul police officials said.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the bombing in a tweet to journalists. He said the bomber had “targeted occupying foreigner forces” and that all of those killed were foreigners.
The airport is adjacent to a military base that includes coalition forces aiding Afghan troops. Official details on casualties were not immediately disclosed.
In Pakistan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it “condemns these deadly attacks in Afghanistan in the strongest terms.” It noted that Pakistan has had its own experience with terrorist attacks and understands the “pain and anguish of the brotherly people” of Afghanistan.
The wave of violence here appeared to be triggered by a power struggle within the Taliban between factions that favor negotiating with the Afghan government and those who want to continue fighting.
Ghani had previously defended Pakistan as a new partner in fighting terrorism and even signed a controversial cooperation agreement with its intelligence officials. But on Monday he accused Pakistan of doing little — if anything — to stop such attacks from being launched across the border.
With the prospects for revived peace talks now in grave doubt, Ghani shed any pretense of diplomatic rapprochement with Pakistan.
Referring to an Afghan delegation scheduled to visit Pakistan shortly to discuss the suspended talks, Ghani said: “The reason we want to talk to Pakistan is that they have given sanctuary to [the insurgents]. This is why we are compelled to engage in talks. If Pakistan cannot bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, at least they can shut down their centers and not take their wounded to hospitals.”
Though Pakistan has been waging a protracted military campaign against Pakistani Islamist militants in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, many Afghans are convinced that Pakistan has played a double game and seeks to keep Afghanistan unstable and vulnerable.
“The safety of our people and the interests of Afghanistan are the only criterion of our relationship with Pakistan,” Ghani said. “If our people are dying and getting killed, then the relationship makes no sense.”
Despite his stern tone, though, Ghani seemed somewhat at a loss for concrete prescriptions or plans — either for countering the new Taliban assaults or for finding a way to resume peace talks.
In discussing the recent attacks in Kabul, the president seemed especially disturbed by the high number of civilian casualties, which he said was the result of the Taliban changing tactics. A recent U.N. report said civilian casualties in Afghanistan since January reached record levels.
“The main issue is that Afghan civilians are being killed,” Ghani said. Describing one of the Friday blasts, he said: “Everyone was sleeping, and something happened. It was not an earthquake or a storm. It was a human action. We want to know about the centers that sent these persons to kill innocent people.”