Islamabad’s Push For Talks With Taliban In Backdrop Of US Troop Draw Down In Afghanistan Causing Anxiety In India

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New Delhi: India’s concerns about Pakistan’s role in backing the Taliban figured in US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad’s discussions with his interlocutors in New Delhi on the US-backed peace process in Afghanistan.

Islamabad’s push for talks with the Taliban against the backdrop of a planned US troop drawdown in Afghanistan has been causing anxiety in New Delhi, especially since Pakistan’s efforts appeared to be aimed at minimising India’s influence in the war-torn country. Simultaneously, Afghan leaders have been hinting they would prefer India to take on a larger role in shaping the peace process.

The people cited above said India’s concerns were raised during Khalilzad’s meetings with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday and foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale on Friday.

US, Indian and Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to the Afghan Taliban leadership and of supporting the group.

Asked during a weekly news briefing whether Pakistan’s role in the emerging peace process was raised in the meetings, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar declined to go into details.

However, he added, “This is something we have articulated time and again, about the destabilising role which Pakistan plays.”

He said both sides had “shared perspectives on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan”.

Khalilzad briefed Swaraj and Gokhale on how the US is trying to achieve peace. “From our perspective, we again made it very clear that peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan should be Afghan-owned, Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled,” he said.

Against the backdrop of Indian Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat’s comments that New Delhi too should engage the Taliban without any precondition in view of India’s interests in Afghanistan, Kumar said, “Our position on Afghanistan has been very clear and very consistent.

“We have said in the past that India supports the peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. We also have said we support the process towards achieving this goal which is inclusive, and there has been no change in that position.”

The people cited above said the army chief had made the remarks in a personal capacity and there had been no change in India’s stand of not having direct talks with the Taliban.

India, they said, had participated only in a “non-official” capacity in a round of talks in November under the “Moscow format” at which the Taliban were also present.

Minister of state for external affairs VK Singh told reporters on Thursday: “We have got nothing to do with the Taliban.”

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