IN THE wake of a series of terror attacks in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke over telephone on Wednesday and “discussed the need for an end to terrorist sanctuaries” in the “neighbourhood” — a clear reference to Pakistan.
The conversation took place even as news reports claimed that Ghani had refused to take a phone call from Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Tuesday — the reports were denied by an Afghan diplomat.
South Block sources told The Indian Express that the 20-minute conversation between Modi and Ghani reflected the “shared concern” of New Delhi and Kabul, and a “meeting of minds” in assessing Islamabad’s role in Afghanistan.
“There was complete consensus after the Uri attacks in 2016, when the Afghan President took the lead in pulling out of the SAARC summit in Islamabad that year. The rest had followed, isolating Pakistan in the region. The latest conversation between the top two leaders is a manifestation of that convergence of views,” sources told The Indian Express.
Sources said Wednesday’s conversation between the two leaders was not a “one-off” but a “regular feature”.
While there was no official word from New Delhi, Ghani posted on his Twitter account: “PM Modi called me to offer condolences on the recent senseless killings of civilians across (sic) #AFG by the enemies of humanity. We discussed the need for an end to terrorist sanctuaries in our neighbourhood. India has always been a good friend of Afghans, sharing our pain and grief.”
Leading Afghan news outlet Tolo News reported that Abbasi reached out to Ghani on Tuesday night “in connection with the spate of recent attacks in Afghanistan” but received no response. However, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal denied that such a phone call had taken place.
“Not true — no phone call has taken place. Following recent horrific terrorist attacks in Kabul, PM Abassi conveyed a message to President Ghani to which it was responded to by high-powered personal delegation by the President to meet the PM today,” he tweeted.
Ghani had sent a delegation to Islamabad “to hand over evidence related to recent attacks in Kabul” to be shared with the Pakistan Army. The high-level delegation comprised the interior minister and the intelligence chief, Pakistan newspaper Dawn reported.
Kabul has been hit by a series of terror attacks over the last 10 days, which has claimed around 150 lives and injured hundreds more. On Monday, Islamic State militants attacked Afghan soldiers guarding a military academy in Kabul killing at least 11 troops and wounding 16.
On January 20, in an assault reminiscent of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, Taliban armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and killed around 25 people, going from room to room searching for foreigners during a more than 12-hour ordeal.
The hotel attack was followed by a Taliban-claimed ambulance bombing on January 27 in the Afghan capital that claimed over 100 lives, mostly civilians.
The Afghan government has blamed the attack on the dreaded Haqqani Network. After the ambulance bombing, India strongly condemned the “barbaric and dastardly terrorist attacks” in Kabul, saying that it “stands ready to extend all possible assistance, including for treatment of those injured”.
Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN Mahmoud Saikal has accused Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, of training a terrorist involved in the attack in Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel.
In the recent past, India-Afghanistan relations have been strengthened by the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in October 2011.
Subsequently, when Modi visited Afghanistan on December 25, 2016, India gifted four Mi-25 attack helicopters to the Afghan Air Force. On June 4, 2016, Modi visited Herat in western Afghanistan to jointly inaugurate the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, earlier known as Salma Dam, along with Ghani.
Ghani paid a working visit to India on September 14-15, 2016, and in October 2017. India had announced last year that it would take up 116 community development projects in 31 Afghan provinces.