New Delhi: Amidst whispered uncertainty that the scheduled polls in July may become a casualty of the ‘success’ of US-Taliban talks, India on Thursday insisted that the Afghan presidential elections should take place as scheduled.
The six days of talks in Doha last week has been projected as a breakthrough by both the US and the Taliban, with chief US negotiator Zalmay Khalizad stating that they had agreed in principle to a framework of a deal.
“We are closely following the developments in peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan undertaken by different stakeholders,” said MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
He noted that India supported efforts for an “inclusive political settlement”, meaning that all denominations should be accommodated in any new government.
Significantly, the MEA spokesperson urged that there should be no effort to scuttle the forthcoming elections. “In this context, it is important that the presidential election in Afghanistan takes place as scheduled,” he said.
The presidential elections were earlier scheduled to be held in April, but were postponed to July. There had been speculation that the reason behind the postponement was due to US pressure, as it wanted the undivided attention of all parties for the peace talks.
However, Afghan government officials denied that there was any pressure, claiming that it was to learn lessons from the flawed parliamentary elections whose results have still to be released.
Following the announcement of “significant progress” in US-Taliban talks, Brookings Institution senior fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown also noted that there were “immediate questions” about how the “peace negotiations will interact with Afghanistan’s presidential elections in July 2019”.
“Will the Taliban be allowed to run its own candidates although the registration deadline has passed? Such a change would profit the Taliban little, as the group has no chance to win. Will the elections be postponed until an Afghan peace deal is struck, with an interim government created in the meantime, including strong Taliban representation? That idea was floated in Afghanistan in the fall, but President Ghani, who would thereby lose power, remains fiercely opposed to it,” wrote Felbab-Brown on January 29.
The rumours about the postponement of the election were triggered by the suggestion that the US had discussed an interim government with the Taliban. According to an Afghan political analyst, the idea of an interim government was first floated by Pakistan around three years ago.
Incidentally, after Khalilzad had briefed Ghani on Sunday night, the Afghan presidential office had issued a statement on Monday morning. It specifically mentioned that Khalilzad had denied discussing the topic of an interim government with the Taliban government in Doha.
In New Delhi, there is a realistic view that if India is batting for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process, then it will eventually find itself a part of a meeting where the Taliban is also present in the room.
This was also, perhaps, hinted by Kumar, who said on Thursday that India “will participate in all format of talks that could bring about peace and security the region”.
India had earlier sent two retired ambassadors as representatives to the Moscow format talks which were attended by a Taliban delegation.