India doesn’t gain from talks with Taliban now: ex-Envoy Amar Sinha

India doesn’t gain from talks with Taliban now: ex-Envoy Amar Sinha

Ex-Afghan envoy suggests SAARC route to engage Kabul

India gains little by engaging the Taliban directly at this stage, says Amar Sinha, former Ambassador to Afghanistan and member of the National Security Advisory Board, countering Army chief General B.P. Rawat’s call for India to ‘join the bandwagon’ in talks. On Wednesday, a two-day ‘intra-Afghan’ dialogue of Afghan leaders and the Taliban, which did not include the Ghani government, ended in Moscow.

Has the Ghani government been sidelined in the current talks between U.S.-Taliban and in Russia?

Frankly, that is the inference anybody would draw. I don’t think the U.S. wanted to sideline him and even (special envoy) Khalilzad has said that after the initial talks with the Taliban, there must be a ceasefire and an intra-Afghan dialogue. But this is a fact, that neither the U.S. nor Russia have the Ghani government at the table at present.

India has taken a position on standing with the government in Kabul and not engaging the Taliban directly … has it been left out of the Taliban process as a result?

I wouldn’t say so. Our engaging the Taliban directly adds no value at this stage. Firstly, we lack access and equity with the Taliban. Secondly, the Taliban’s policies are too heavily governed by Pakistan and until those ties are loosened, it will be pointless for India to make a move. It will also be pointless to go ahead of the government in Kabul or public opinion in Afghanistan, because our biggest asset is the goodwill India has in the Afghan mind. Even the Taliban recognises that, and said in its statement this week that they will support Chabahar and other Indian projects.

Even so, Army Chief Bipin Rawat said that India must ‘jump on the bandwagon’ of talks with the Taliban….

I don’t think the Army Chief would suggest that in South Asia, where India should have a leadership role, that we should jump on to anyone’s bandwagon. We must engage Afghanistan through SAARC and evolve a policy for post-U.S. pullout.

You were a part of the Indian non-official delegation that travelled to Moscow to sit at the table along with the Taliban. How far will the Indian government go on this?

The general political leadership in Afghanistan now accepts that the Taliban are Afghans at the end of the day, and we should accept that. The issue is, what sort of a government they run, and how they enter it. India would want that the democratic process, which has evolved over these past 10 years, is not jettisoned. That is the only fair way in assessing what the people of Afghanistan want. The Taliban can always take power through a coup or Kalashnikovs, but that doesn’t lead to stability.

Is there any scope for India to take a leadership role in Afghan reconciliation?

My personal view is, yes. Once the Taliban agrees to speak to other groups in Afghanistan, India should be willing to host a Jirga (Grand council meet). We are a safe country and a neutral country. We don’t pose a threat to either the Taliban or the others, and we don’t choose winners or losers. Plus we have a huge Afghan population living in India, especially the younger generation that want their voice heard. So encouraging the population here to meet and voice opinions could provide a good platform.

All such Jirgas will begin with grievances, but that is the only way reconciliation can happen. Eventually, the real reconciliation will have to happen outside foreign offices.

How can India ensure then that the situation doesn’t return to 1996, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan with Pakistan’s help?

I don’t think we have to do much to ensure that. The Afghans will ensure that, and even the Taliban will ensure it. It is time for Pakistan to recognise they must let go, and treat Afghanistan as a sovereign country.

It may be seen as a great strategic victory for Pakistan for a few years, but the faultline between Taliban and Pakistan will emerge eventually. Afghanistan is a proud nation.

So Kabul won’t be overrun again as it was in 1996?

Well, one must qualify that. If it is just the Taliban versus the ANSDF (Afghanistan National Security and Defence Forces), then I don’t think they can beat the Afghan National forces. But the ANSDF can’t be expected to take on a military operation with a nuclear-weapons state (Pakistan) or its proxies embedded in Afghanistan.

Should India then accept a Taliban takeover?

It will be very hard for India to accept a Taliban regime of the 1990s. Afghanistan has made too much progress on education, women’s rights, democracy, on building an inclusive Afghanistan. And I think there are signs that the Taliban does not want a monopoly over power, and we must watch what they do if they come to the mainstream.

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