External Affairs

Mere Meeting Will Not Make a Difference: India on Russia-China-Pakistan Talks

File photo of M.J. Akbar. Credit: PTI

File photo of M.J. Akbar. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: India on Tuesday implicitly criticised the recent trilateral meeting between Russia, China and Pakistan – which called for restarting talks with Taliban – stating that a “mere meeting” of third parties that doesn’t show any results on the ground “will not make any difference”.

On December 27, Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials met in Moscow and agreed to a “flexible approach to remove certain figures from sanctions lists as part of efforts to foster a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban movement”.

The Afghan government expressed annoyance at the meeting in which Afghanistan did not participate. The call to remove sanctions on Taliban leaders was also dismissed, with Kabul insisting that it was the state’s sovereign responsibility to decide on who should be on the sanctions list. A month ago, the Afghan government had asked the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to impose sanctions against the Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada.

In India’s first official reaction to the trilateral talks, the minister of state for external affairs, M. J. Akbar said, “We do not believe that holding meetings about Afghanistan alone is going the solve the problems of Afghanistan. Eventually, it is all about delivering benefits on the ground which [can be] seen by the people of Afghanistan”.

He added that any “political settlement has to be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”. “Nothing else is going to work in Afghanistan”.

Akbar was speaking at the mid-term press conference held by the external affairs ministry to mark two-and-half years of the Modi government. He shared the dais with his colleague, V. K. Singh. Their senior colleague, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj didn’t attend the press conference as she is confined to her residence as she recuperates from a liver transplant operation

Contrasting India’s approach with the other three countries, Akbar said that India had always consulted Afghanistan, even for decisions such as identifying areas for capacity building projects.

“It is eventually up to the government of Afghanistan [to decide] on who it wants to engage with and how it wants to engage and on what terms. [The] mere meeting of three-four countries and saying that we are going to work out something which will not work on the ground, will not make difference,” he asserted.

Russia has been pushing for reaching out to the Taliban, in order to focus on what it considers the real problem, which in Moscow’s view is the spread of the ISIS in the region. The three countries also expressed “particular concern” about the rising activity of ISIS’s Khorasan branch.

Akbar, however, denied that the existence of a rift between India and Russia. “[India’s] relationship with Russia has stood the test of time and we are confident that it will stand the test of the future. We do not believe that Russia will do anything which is injurious to our security or injurious to our national interest. The bridge of camaraderie is candour. And I can assure you that there is candour.”

On China, Akbar pointed out that the country had to realise the “double standard” involved in China blocking a move to list Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar on the UNSC’s sanctions panel.

“We hope China, as a mature and responsible nation, will understand that double standards are simply self-defeating, even suicidal. China has its own terrorist problems. China recognises them, addresses them in bilateral agreements. We hope and we are sure that China can be persuaded to see the depth and evil of this menace… We will continue to point out the absurdity of the UNSC 1267 committee in which 14 out of 15 countries agreed on taking action against Masood Azhar and only one held out,” Akbar noted.

The minister also reiterated the government’s consistent position that ‘terror’ and ‘talks’ with Pakistan cannot go together. At the same time, he did not endorse the view of another BJP Rajya Sabha member Subramaniam Swamy, who has previously said that diplomatic relations with Pakistan should be broken off.

“The engagement with Pakistan needs to continue as has been said and was first stated by Vajpayee ji. We have to deal with them. We deal with them eyes open, but we don’t deal with them with minds closed. In that respect, this talk of inflammation doesn’t necessarily help. We hope that Pakistan will see the path of reason. We hope Pakistan’s friends will persuade it to see the path of reason,” said Akbar.

  • Faisal Ashfaq

    This guy used to go around telling himself that “Saudi Arabia prefers India over Pakistan”.

    Now he has to explain why even Russia is starting to develop regional policy with Pakistan.