Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Thursday announced his long-awaited nominee for the post of defense minister as Taliban insurgents have expanded their spring offensive to a wide area of the country.
“I am pleased to announce that Minister [Masoom] Stanekzai will be our next minister of defense,” Ghani told the opening session in Kabul of the International Contact Group [ICG], which is helping Afghanistan improve governance, and political and economic stability.
Stanekzai has served as a minister and security advisor to former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He was a central member of the so-called High Peace Council Karzai had formed to seek peace and reconciliation with the Taliban.
The new defense minister, who still requires parliamentary approval before assuming office, was critically wounded in a suicide bombing in 2011 that killed the then head of the High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Facing security challenges
In his Thursday’s speech, Ghani assured the participants that his national unity government is determined to overcome security challenges, mainly stemming from the rise in Taliban attacks. He said that the appointment of the new defense minister will help boost anti-insurgency operations Afghan security forces are conducting.
“We will answer war with war, let there be no ambiguity. On a daily basis I take stock of our security forces, of their wellbeing and of their orientation. We did not seek war. The war has been imposed on us. But we will overcome this war, let there be no ambiguity,” he said.
Ghani dismissed concerns his government might collapse while tackling the Taliban insurgency.
“Yes, we do need more air support. I have been very clear about that, but this is a war where we can be confident of not collapsing and consolidating," he said. "Our armed forces have taken the initiatives and simultaneously are fighting some surprises. But, so far keep our fingers crossed, so good.”
The Afghan president also dismissed Taliban claims that their fight is against “foreign occupation forces” in the country.
“We have passed the point of ambiguity. This war is not against foreign forces. Foreign forces have left. This is a war to destabilize a democratically elected government to deny people an opportunity,” Ghani asserted.
Relations with Pakistan
He also discussed efforts his government is making to improve traditionally tense relations with neighboring Pakistan, saying he is “pleased with the nature of current discussions” the countries are engaged in.
Ghani praised Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s determination not to allow use of Pakistani soil for terrorist attacks against Afghanistan and to treat its enemies as enemies of Pakistan.
“We need to see this translated into a program of action where sanctuary is denied and material support and others [are denied]. It is an extensive program and we are in good discussions,” he said.
Ghani said he is also addressing critical governance issues in close coordination with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, his election-rival turned coalition partner. He said that reforms in the judicial system are also being introduced; admitting that corruption in the judiciary is fueling violence in Afghanistan.