Any peace deal with the Taliban “will not and should not be detrimental” to the national security of any country including India, and it is for New Delhi to decide whether to engage with the militant outfit, top Afghan peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah said on Saturday. In an interview to PTI, Abdullah, the chairman of the powerful High Council for National Reconciliation, also dispelled India’s apprehensions that a prominent role for the Taliban as part of a possible outcome to the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks could be detrimental to its strategic interests.
“It is not in our interest if any terrorist group has any foothold in Afghanistan. The agreement should be one which is acceptable to people of Afghanistan. It should be dignified, sustainable and durable,” Abdullah said. The influential Afghan leader also said if a peace deal is struck with Taliban, then all other terror groups “freelancing in mountains and deserts of Afghanistan and launching attacks on us or any other nation” will have to cease their activities.
“Peaceful settlement will not be and should not be detrimental to any country’s national security including India. India is a country which has helped Afghanistan, contributed to Afghanistan. It is a friend of Afghanistan,” he said when asked whether he can assure that the outcome of the peace talks will not be detrimental to India’s security interests. There have been apprehensions in New Delhi that Pakistan might leverage its influence over the Taliban to step up cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir if the militant group regains political prominence after a possible peace deal between it and the Afghan government.
Abdullah arrived here on Tuesday on a five-day visit as part of his efforts to build a regional consensus and support for the historic Afghan peace process. During his stay, he briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the peace talks and held meetings with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Asked whether he got any indication of India’s willingness to engage with the Taliban, Abdullah said, “personally, I encourage engagement of India in the peace process. I did not make the suggestion. It is for India to decide how to engage with a group or not engage with a group. I did not pursue it,” he said.
The Taliban and the Afghan government are holding direct talks, aimed at ending decades of war that has killed tens of thousands of people and ravaged various parts of Afghanistan. On September 12, an Indian delegation attended the inaugural ceremony marking the launch of direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha. Jaishankar joined it through a video conference which was attended by a number of key leaders from several countries including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The Afghan leader said he is taking back the message of support and commitment to the peace process from India. “Lot of time and energy was spent to find the best way forward,” he said on his talks with Indian leaders.
India has been supporting a national peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. Abdullah said people of Afghanistan are yearning for peace and stability and they will not allow terrorism to sustain.
“If somebody thinks that because of other circumstances in Afghanistan including withdrawal of the US troops, there might be a situation where one side may take advantage of it, temporarily something might happen. But that will put the will of that side to a big test if that is the calculation. Because that is a miscalculation, that will be a miscalculation. That is not in our interest,” he said. On whether there is a possibility of Beijing leaning on Islamabad to protect its security and connectivity interests in Afghanistan if the Taliban becomes a key influencer in Kabul, Abdullah said his country benefits from support from different countries including China which is an important country.
Asked the possibility of reaching a ceasefire agreement as part of the peace talks, Abdullah said: “ceasefire is too difficult for Taliban to accept; a lot more can be done before that like reduction in violence in some way or the other.” On when he expected an outcome from the talks, Abdullah refused to speculate but said he was not pessimistic. “It will be difficult for me to judge when we will get there. But I am not pessimistic. People of Afghanistan expect us to deliver more and deliver better,” he said.
When referred to US President Donald Trump’s comments that the American soldiers in Afghanistan would return home by Christmas, Abdullah said he was not aware of the details of it but referred to Washington’s agreement to keep 4,500 troops. Describing the situation in Afghanistan as challenging, Abdullah said Afghanistan can sustain itself and can stand on its own feet.
“It is a very challenging environment within the country. There is no easy simple answer. Afghanistan can sustain itself. It can stand on its own feet,” he added. Asked about the operation of the Haqqani network in Afghanistan which has strong links with Pakistan, Abdullah said it is part of the Taliban and referred to the Taliban’s commitment to the US to stop attacks.
“The point to understand is that the Haqani network is part of the Taliban and the Taliban have made a commitment to the US. More than that people of Afghanistan expect the country to live in peace with one another and not to pose any threat against any country in the region,” he said. “What we have is what we have. We want to put an end to that; the people of Afghanistan want to put an end to that. It is a very challenging environment within the country; there is not an easy simple answer. Afghanistan can sustain itself; it can stand on its own feet,” he added.
India has been a major stakeholder in the peace and stability of Afghanistan. It has already invested USD two billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country. India has been keenly following the evolving political situation after the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February. The deal provided for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, effectively drawing curtains to Washington’s 18-year war with Taliban in the country.
New Delhi has also been maintaining that care should be taken to ensure that any such process does not lead to any “ungoverned spaces” where terrorists and their proxies can relocate. India has been calling upon all sections of the political spectrum in Afghanistan to work together to meet the aspirations of all people in that country including those from the minority community for a prosperous and safe future.