New Delhi: A day after Army Chief General Bipin Rawat claimed that India should join the “bandwagon” and engage with the Taliban, the ministry of external affairs said that there is “no change of position” on Afghanistan.
On Thursday, January 10, Army chief Rawat had said that a number of countries were already talking to the Taliban. “The issue we should address is – do we have an interest in Afghanistan. If the answer is yes, then you cannot be out of the bandwagon,” he stated, adding that talks have to be held “without preconditions”.
A day later on January 11, MEA made it clear that army chief’s remarks do not herald any modification of the policy to keep the Taliban at bay.
“Our position on Afghanistan has been very consistent – India supports peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. We have also said that we support the process that is inclusive towards achieved this goal. There has been no change in the position,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Friday.
The MEA response also comes in the backdrop of the visit of the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalizad, who met with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale.
“Essentially, both sides shared perspectives on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Mr Khalilzad briefed EAM and FS on their aspect as to how the US is trying to achieve peace and reconciliation in the country, he said. Khalilzad is leading direct talks with the Taliban, whose first round was held in Abu Dhabi last month.
“From our perspective, we made it very clear that peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan should be Afghan-owned, Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled,” he added.
Asked whether India expressed concern about Pakistan playing a pivotal role in the Afghan peace process, Kumar said, “This is something we have articulated time and again – the destabilising role that Pakistan plays.”
Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, however, backed the Indian army chief’s proposal for direct talks with Taliban, asserted that it didn’t contradict the premise of Afghan-owned, Afghan-led talks.
“India should be helping Afghan people to gain ownership, leadership of the Afghan people. Army chief’s announcement with Taliban is legitimate… India being a friend of Afghanistan means a friend of Afghan people in which the government is the centrepiece, of course. You have to be in contact with the government of day as you have been in contact with my government,” Karzai told The Wire in an interview.
At the same time, India “was in contact with Afghan people through ways and forums and channels,” he added.
“The Taliban are part of Afghanistan and India has to be in touch… and should be,” he asserted.