Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday (22) the United States 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 made several controversial statements a day earlier alongside Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan at the White House, including that he could end the war in a matter of days but “Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth”.
His comments sparked outrage in Afghanistan.
The war-weary and traumatised population is already worried about a precipitous pull-out of US forces — after nearly 18 years — and whether that means a quick return to rule by the Islamic extremist Taliban, and civil war.
“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.
Afghanistan “would be gone. It would be over in literally, in 10 days”, Trump said. He added: “I don’t want to go that route”, and 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 — have been talking to Washington about a possible deal that would see foreign military forces quit in return for various security guarantees.
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.
Ghani is furious about being continually sidelined by the US in ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.
– ‘Threatened and humiliated’ –
Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban, who have waged an insurgency since they were ousted by US-led forces in 2001, is seen as crucial to 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.
Some Afghans — including former president Hamid Karzai — took to social media to vent about Trump’s comments.
“We are the Pamirs! You can’t wipe out ‘The Roof of the World'”, Karzai said on Twitter.
Facebook user Mohd Farhad wrote that he felt “shocked, threatened and humiliated. We trusted Americans to help us in the war against terror, and now president Trump is threatening us with genocide”.
Trump’s envoy Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Tuesday ahead of a trip to the Qatari capital Doha for a new round of direct talks 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.
A Taliban spokesman, in Pashto and in English, late Tuesday condemned Trump’s remarks and urged practical steps towards a solution “instead of failed policies and impractical hubris.”
The dream of military victory “was taken to the grave by Genghis, British and the former Soviet leaders. On the contrary, their empires were wiped off the face of this earth but the Afghan nation proudly endured and will continue to endure,” the spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid said, referring to past foreign campaigns in the country.
Even as the US pushes for a deal, violence in Afghanistan has in recent weeks intensified. Both Afghan forces and the Taliban claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on each other.