Talks with Taliban: India says stand hasn’t changed

Talks with Taliban: India says stand hasn’t changed

Govt. reiterates position against direct talks after Army chief’s comments

In the midst of confusion over the Army Chief’s comments on India joining talks with the Taliban on Thursday, the government made it clear that India would not engage the Afghan insurgents directly, and had not changed its position on the issue.

On the sidelines of the annual Raisina Dialogue, Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (Retd) V.K. Singh said India’s position on direct talks with the Taliban remained the same.

He explained that the attendance of two former diplomats at a conference in Moscow which included Taliban representatives was purely “non-official”.

“We had just sent non-officials because it was something called for by Russia,” Mr. Singh told reporters, “We have got nothing to do with Taliban.”

A senior government official also said India’s traditional position on a purely “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” dialogue had not altered, despite a number of countries including U.S., Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan beginning talks with the Taliban.

Rawat’s assertions

Suggesting that Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s comments were an opinion expressed in response to questions, Mr. Singh added, “You asked [Gen. Rawat] whether we should talk with [Taliban]. He said ‘yes we should’. Matter ends there; where is the problem?”

On Thursday, Mr. Rawat repeated his assertion that talks with the Taliban should be pursued.

“Does India have an interest in Afghanistan? Is answer is yes, then we can’t be out of the bandwagon… Our thinking is that yes, we have interest in Afghanistan. If we have an interest and other people want to talk to Taliban, then should we in some way be involved, either directly or indirectly? But we should not be left out,” Gen. Rawat said at the Army’s annual press conference ahead of Army Day.

Senior officials said the message that India was committed to pursuing bilateral ties with Afghanistan through its projects with the government in Kabul had also been conveyed to visiting U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Mr. Khalilzad has met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and is meeting Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and member of the National Security Advisory Board Amar Sinha, who was one of the “non-officials” who attended the Moscow talks, during his two-day visit.

The issue over talks with the Taliban has dominated much of the conversation during the Raisina Dialogue this year, with Russian officials promoting direct talks with the Taliban, and Iranian officials offering to facilitate a dialogue between India and the Taliban. On Thursday former Afghan President Hamid Karzai also told the conference that the “Taliban is inevitable for bringing peace to the country.” However, Mr. Karzai added that he believed India must play a “larger role” in Afghanistan independent of other countries.

“We want India to be in Afghanistan on its own independent of all others. This is an immensely deep relationship. We expect India to engage more with Afghanistan, to do a lot more,” Mr. Karzai said.

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