US tries to allay India's concerns over Taliban talks

Zalmay Khalilzad

The United States has sought to allay India's concerns over its negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, arguing that the peace process would improve the prospects of peace and security in the region.

New Delhi, however, remained sceptical and reiterated to the Donald Trump administration that hasty withdrawal of the United States' soldiers from Afghanistan might allow the Taliban to regain control of the war-ravaged country and bring back the situation that had existed before September 2001.

Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation, was on a tour to New Delhi on Monday and Tuesday. Khalilzad, the lead US interlocutor for talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, had a series of meetings with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale. He also met BJP general secretary Ram Madhav before concluding his two-day visit.

“I appreciate India’s expression of support for our efforts; it strengthens an emerging international consensus. We agreed on important benefits peace will bring: addressing the threat of terrorist use of Afghanistan; increased regional connectivity & (and) trade,” Khalilzad posted on Twitter on Tuesday.

Trump had on January 2 this year mocked at India's role in Afghanistan, which had been limited to funding development projects in the conflict-ravaged country without sending troops to join the war against the Taliban.

New Delhi had dismissed the jibe, underlining that its $3 billion development assistance had indeed transformed lives of people in the war-ravaged country. 

New Delhi has been concerned as the peace process is likely to lead to the integration of the Taliban into the governance structure in Afghanistan. What India has been worried about is the possibility of the Taliban re-imposing strict Sharia Law in Afghanistan and facilitating the terror outfits based in Pakistan and responsible for many attacks in India expanding footprints and operations across South Africa.

A spokesperson of the US embassy in New Delhi said that Khalilzad discussed with Sushma, Gokhale and Doval “many important benefits” that would come with peace in Afghanistan — preventing international terrorists from using the country as a platform for attacks, improved prospects for regional peace and security and increased regional connectivity and trade.

Khalilzad visited New Delhi at a time when the new round of US-Taliban talks at Doha in Qatar got stuck due to differences on the issue of the pace of withdrawal of the foreign military troops from Afghanistan. What has also made the process difficult is the Taliban's reluctance to disarm its militants and agree to a ceasefire.

Sushma conveyed to Khalilzad that while New Delhi was not opposed to the peace process in Doha, it was of the view that excessive concession to the Taliban could squander away the gains made in fighting the menace of religious fanaticism and terrorism in Afghanistan, sources told the DH.

Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said that Sushma and Khalilzad discussed “the role of all regional stakeholders in bringing peace and development in Afghanistan”.

India will work with key partners in days ahead, he added.

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