ISLAMABAD - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has demanded neighboring Pakistan evict fugitive Taliban leaders from its soil and hand them over to Kabul for trial.
In a hard-hitting speech to a rare joint session of parliament Monday, Ghani said Pakistani leaders promised they would use force against Taliban leaders who refuse to end the war and join Afghan peace talks.
He went on to assert that insurgent leaders continue to use their “centers” in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta for directing violence in Afghanistan.
“It is our exception that if Pakistan is unable to take action against them as per its commitments to the four-nation group, then they should be handed over to our Islamic courts so they are tried and punished for their crimes,” Ghani said.
He was referring to a so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group, comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, which has been trying to revive peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban since the beginning of this year.
At the end of February, the four-way dialogue announced that an initial round of Afghan peace talks would be hosted by Pakistan in early March.
But the Taliban, in a last-minute announcement, refused to attend and instead launched its annual spring offensive in Afghanistan.
“Today, I want to make it clear that we do not expect Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the peace talks,” Ghani said, attracting a huge applause from the lawmakers.
The Afghan leader made the speech a week after a Taliban bomb and gun assault in Kabul killed nearly 70 people and wounded about 350 others.
The insurgent group claimed responsibility, saying it was part of its spring offensive.
The deadly raid outraged Afghans and prompted demands for Ghani to abandon the policy of engaging in peace talks with the Taliban and instead step up military operations against the insurgents.
Afghan officials alleged the militant Haqqani network, based in Pakistan, plotted last week's assault in Kabul with the help of the neighboring country's intelligence agency.
Islamabad has rejected the allegation.
Speech to legislators
In Monday's speech, Ghani did not completely rule out talks with those Taliban groups who denounce violence and cut ties to terrorist groups.
"The (Taliban) faction involved in death and destruction in Afghanistan is being guided by its slave-like leadership in Peshawar and Quetta who enjoy inflicting bloodshed and destruction on the people of Afghanistan. They do not possess welfare and prosperity plans for Afghans nor do they worry about respecting their wishes and needs," he said.
U.S. officials have previously criticized Pakistan for allowing the Taliban to operate inside their borders.
“We have consistently expressed our concerns at the highest level of the government of Pakistan about their continued tolerance for Afghan Taliban groups such as the Haqqani network operating from Pakistani soil,” U.S State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters Friday.
Trudeau said Washington again pressed Islamabad after the Kabul attack to follow up on its expressed commitment not to discriminate between terror groups regardless of their agenda or affiliation by undertaking concrete action against the Haqqanis.
The Taliban was quick to react to Ghani's Monday speech. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid rejected as fraudulent and fictitious” Ghani's assertions.
"The (Afghan) nation is not blind, people understand who the slave is and who works as mercenaries for the interest of others," he said.
Mujahid added the Taliban will not end its “jihad’ until "foreign occupation" of Afghanistan is ended and an "Islamic system" is implemented in the country.