Afghan president appoints Pakistan critics to 2 top posts

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appointed hard-line opponents of neighboring Pakistan to two top security posts on Sunday, potentially complicating U.S. efforts to revive peace talks with the Taliban ahead of next summer’s withdrawal of 7,000 American troops.

Ghani announced that Amrullah Saleh will be the next interior minister and Asadullah Khaleed will be defense minister. Both are former intelligence chiefs who have blamed Pakistan for the Taliban’s resurgence in recent years and have even called for it to be declared a state sponsor of terror.

Afghanistan’s parliament will have to approve the appointments.

Pakistan, which has influence over the Taliban, is taking part in the latest U.S. effort to revive the peace process. It was Pakistan that helped orchestrate last week’s talks in the United Arab Emirates. Representatives of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Pakistan and the United States attended those talks with the Taliban. In a significant development, Afghanistan’s national Security Adviser was also in the UAE and while he did not attend talks with the Taliban he met with Washington’s Peace Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who reportedly kept him informed of the discussions.

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However, two high ranking officials in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said Ghani was displeased that the Taliban refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government in the UAE. The Taliban have repeatedly refused to talk to Kabul calling them American puppets.

The Taliban, who heralded the announced withdrawal of half of the 14,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan as a good step toward peace, have refused to comment on the appointments of Saleh and Khaleed. In 2012, a Taliban suicide bomber targeted Khaleed, who suffered serious injuries.

Meanwhile Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the Associated Press that he will be in Kabul on Monday for talks with the government to reinforce Pakistan’s commitment to finding a peaceful end to Afghanistan’s 17-year war.

Qureshi will be in Kabul on the first leg of a regional tour that will also include Iran, China and Russia.

“Good relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as peace in Afghanistan, is critical for regional stability,” said Qureshi. “Pakistan wants a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.”

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Associated Press writer Asim Tanvir in Multan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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