New Delhi: Afghanistan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar Tuesday said his President Ashraf Ghani is willing to hold elections and transfer power to the Taliban only if they are willing to adhere to a ceasefire.
He also said Kabul wants a greater role for New Delhi in the Afghan peace process as India is part of the “regional and international consensus building”. In that process, he also said, it’s entirely up to India to decide if it wants to directly deal with Taliban.
Atmar, who arrived in the national capital Monday, has held a series of meetings with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and some of the former Indian ambassadors to Kabul.
He may also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi Wednesday.
“If the Taliban accepts a political settlement that is acceptable to the Afghan people and if they agree to have elections as legitimate means for transfer of power and responsibility, then he is ready to hold early presidential elections. This means that he will not wait until the end of his term,” Atmar said at a press conference Tuesday at the Indian Women’s Press Corps.
He said Ghani has also stated that the elections, if held early, will be administered and monitored by the “international community and which is transparent and free and fair in every aspect”.
“That we see is the only legitimate way forward for political closure and for transfer of power. Any other things contrary to this will be in violation of our Constitution,” Atmar added.
He said the Taliban may want to violate the constitution but that would not bring “lasting peace” in the war-torn country.
Atmar’s comments come on a day when the Afghan president is reported to be offering a new presidential election within the next six months. The move is expected to be announced in Turkey next month.
‘Reviewing’ proposal to steer Taliban peace deal
Earlier this month, the US proposed to steer the Taliban peace deal by having a UN-led coalition, which also includes India.
The proposal also batted for the setting up of an interim government in Afghanistan, which Kabul is vehemently opposed to.
The Afghan foreign minister said his government is still “reviewing” the proposals.
“Our government and political leadership is reviewing the ideas that have been put together in a proposal which is not a US proposal. It is basically a proposal to stimulate thinking. So it’s not a specific country proposal. But Afghanistan has always been looking at ways in which we could have advanced the peace process and offered a legitimate but at the same time fully acceptable way to the Taliban,” he said.
However, Atmar did not support the idea of an interim government in Afghanistan.
This is something that the US — whether under the former Donald Trump administration or the new Joe Biden administration — has been pushing for, till such time the US completes the withdrawal of its troops from the country after a 19-year war.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is believed to be pushing for the creation of such a set-up in Kabul.
“It is not the president. It is the people of Afghanistan who would like to see their basic rights protected. An interim set-up will be a departure from the constitution and the people of Afghanistan would not want their future be determined by anybody who is selecting an interim government and on what basis do they get the legitimacy for that setup isn’t clear,” said Atmar.
Ghani has been vehemently opposed to the idea of having an interim government in Afghanistan.
Kabul seeking ‘greater role’ for India in Taliban talks
Affirming the fact that India has legitimate interest in the peace and stability of Afghanistan, Atmar said Kabul is “seeking a greater role for India in the process”.
“We’ve already said that a lasting peace in Afghanistan will critically depend on national, regional and international consensus because our war has never been a civil war. It’s been a war imposed from outside on Afghans using some Afghans and some foreign fighters. So India is part of the regional and international consensus building,” he said.
All these issues will be discussed during the regional conference of the ‘Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process’ meeting, which will be held on 30 March in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, he said. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar will be attending the conference.
Atmar said during his discussions with Jaishankar, there were no talks on whether India will be directly dealing with the Taliban. “We leave it entirely to India to make that decision. We’ve asked for greater role by India’s in regional and international consensus building,” he added.
He said at present the focus of the Afghan government is to bring the Taliban to the table for a “serious” intra-Afghan dialogue, which is going on in Doha, Qatar.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)