Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday the US should clarify remarks president Donald Trump made about Afghanistan, including a claim he could easily win the war but didn’t ‘want to kill 10 million people’.
Trump had made several controversial statements a day earlier alongside Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan at the White House, including that he had plans that would ensure a speedy end to the Afghan conflict, but which would wipe the country ‘off the face of the Earth’.
His comments sparked outrage in Afghanistan, where the war-weary and traumatised population is already worried about a precipitous pull-out of US forces and whether that means a quick return to Taliban rule and civil war.
Afghanistan ‘would be gone. It would be over in literally, in 10 days’, Trump said, adding, ‘I don’t want to go that route’, and that he didn’t want to kill millions.
Trump’s statements came as his peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, travelled to Kabul ahead of a new round of peace talks with the Taliban.
The insurgents — who now control or influence about half of Afghanistan’s territory — has been talking to Washington about a possible deal that would see foreign military forces quit in return for various security guarantees.
‘The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan calls for clarification on the US president’s statements expressed at a meeting with the Pakistan prime minister, via diplomatic means and channels,’ Ghani’s office said in a statement.
Trump also said Pakistan would help the US ‘extricate’ itself from Afghanistan, adding there was ‘tremendous potential’ in the relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
Afghanistan has long blamed Pakistan for fuelling the Afghan conflict and for supporting the
Taliban — which Islamabad denies — and Ghani is furious about being continually sidelined by the US in ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.
Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban, who have waged an insurgency since they were ousted by US-led forces in 2001, is seen as key in facilitating a political settlement with Ghani’s government.
‘While the Afghan government supports the US efforts for ensuring peace in Afghanistan, the government underscores that foreign heads of state cannot determine Afghanistan’s fate in absence of the Afghan leadership,’ Ghani’s office said.
Everyday Afghans took to social media to vent after Trump’s comments.
‘I feel shocked, threatened and humiliated. We trusted Americans to help us in the war against terror, and now president Trump is threatening us with genocide,’ Facebook user Mohd Farhad wrote.
‘I cannot believe he said it. I know it is him but I’m still in shock,’ Nadene Ghouri, another Facebook user, wrote.
Trump’s envoy Khalilzad meanwhile arrived in Kabul on Tuesday ahead of a trip to Qatari capital Doha for what will be the eighth round of direct talks he’s held with the Taliban.
Those discussions are expected to begin in the coming days, with Ghani and his administration once again locked out.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has set an ambitious goal of securing a deal by September 1.
In a tweet, Khalilzad said he would be ‘focused on achieving an enduring peace that ends the war, ensures terrorists do not use Afghanistan to threaten the US, honours the sacrifices that US, our allies and Afghans made, and cements an enduring relationship w/ Afghanistan’.
Even as the US pushes for a deal, violence in Afghanistan has in recent weeks intensified with both Afghan forces and the Taliban claiming to have inflicted heavy casualties on each other.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Middle East