New Delhi: India has assured Afghanistan of New Delhi’s “active involvement” in Kabul’s peace dialogue with the Taliban, which is aimed at ending the 19-year-old war there, Afghan leader Abdullah Abdullah has told ThePrint.
Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), which is overseeing the Afghan government’s talks with the Taliban for a power-sharing deal, arrived in India Tuesday for a five-day trip.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Abdullah said the visit had resulted in a “lot of convergence of ideas when it comes to the situation in the country”.
During the visit, the Afghan leader met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who hosted a dinner reception for him earlier this week. The dinner was attended by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla and Army Chief General M.M. Naravane, among others.
“India has been supporting Afghanistan, supporting the Islamic Republic and also India is supportive of an inclusive peaceful settlement, Afghan-owned and Afghan-led negotiations,” Abdullah said, adding that he did not raise the idea of New Delhi directly talking with the Taliban.
While India was not directly part of the US-led peace deal that was signed between the Donald Trump administration and Taliban leaders on 29 February, New Delhi has now become an active stakeholder in the intra-Afghan dialogue that began last month in Doha. However, it has been India’s stated policy that it will not engage with the Taliban, as it continues to see the fundamentalist group as being aided by Pakistan.
Said Abdullah, “I didn’t raise the idea of talking to the Taliban directly or asking India to do that. But we decided we continue this interaction and engagement on bilateral basis. Also, India will be there with the rest of the international community, actively involved in support of the peace process. But I didn’t make the direct request to talk to the Taliban.”
At his meeting with Modi, Abdullah briefed the Prime Minister on the status of the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. He also said he informed Modi that “reduction in violence” continues to be Kabul’s main agenda in the ongoing talks.
“Our delegation, our negotiating team (in Doha) was instructed and guided to make the reduction in violence as first part of the agenda. So, that has not been reciprocated by the Taliban, unfortunately,” Abdullah added.
“But we haven’t lost our hopes. We will continue to push for that. We have asked other countries to influence that position on Taliban. Hopefully, we will have some reduction in violence,” Abdullah, who was earlier the Chief Executive of Afghanistan, said.
Without it, he added, “it will be very difficult for the people of Afghanistan to accept the fact that while talks continue, violence continues to increase”. “That’s not something that the people will continue to tolerate. So, we are hopeful and… our team is flexible enough. If not complete ceasefire, what else?” he said.
‘US to bring down troop to 4,500 before elections’
Lauding the US’ efforts, first in signing the peace deal with the Taliban and then in their support for the intra-Afghan talks, Abdullah said Washington has committed to “significantly reduce” the presence of their troops and that of NATO in Afghanistan before the US presidential elections next month.
“There will be significant reduction of troops before the elections. That is already happening,” Abdullah said. “But some part will be left, according to the current arrangement. It will come down to 4,500 before the elections and that’s the current arrangement, if something new is not decided. And including NATO (troops), it will be around 10,000,” he added.
While America has committed to substantial reduction in troops from Afghanistan as part of its peace deal with the Taliban, the US is also pushing the latter to uphold their counterterrorism guarantees by way of complete reduction in violence and terror activities there.
In a tweet Thursday, US President Donald Trump, who is aiming for re-election next month, promised to have all American troops home by Christmas.
We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
Leveraging Pakistan’s ‘influence’ with Taliban
Before coming to India, Abdullah made a successful trip to Pakistan where he met Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa in a more conciliatory manner than recent interactions between Kabul and Islamabad.
“During our talks there, I encouraged Pakistan to use their influence in support of two things — Taliban showing flexibility in terms of the agenda and the Taliban accepting reduction in violence. This is not just in our interest but this is in everybody’s interest. It’s in the interest of the peace process,” he said.
While New Delhi has remained firm on its stance that it will engage in the peace talks only through the Afghan government, it has always been concerned about Pakistan’s role as facilitator in the peace process, including between the US and the Taliban.
“India will be playing along with the rest of the international community of the region and beyond. India will continue with its more focussed engagement with Afghanistan, which is important. The rest is the reality (of India and Pakistan not having a dialogue) of our region which will continue the same or may change. We cannot influence it from our part,” Abdullah said.
‘Taliban establishing its own emirate is not acceptable’
Earlier this year, in April, the Taliban issued a draft charter where it called for the establishment of an Islamic emirate. The charter envisions a “future government” similar to the one they led in Afghan between 1996 and 2001, a period marked by grave human rights excesses.
A predominantly Pashtun Islamist fundamentalist group, the Taliban was thrown out of power by US-led forces in 2001, as Washington unleashed its “war on terror” in light of 9/11.
“The Taliban comes to power, it will establish its own emirate in Afghanistan and impose their rules on the people of Afghanistan, that’s something which is not acceptable to the people of Afghanistan. A solution where Taliban is part and rest of the Afghanistan is part of is something we aim for,” Abdullah told ThePrint. “And I don’t think without the support of society there could be peace. Discriminating against half of your population is not peace. That is something that the people of Afghanistan, men and women, made sacrifices for,” Abdullah said.
The talks of the Taliban coming back to power are growing fervent, and there are larger concerns within the region that dreaded militants like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar might begin to have unprecedented powers.
Hekmatyar is a former warlord known as the “butcher of Kabul” for pounding the Afghan capital with shells during the country’s civil war in the 1990s.
“Mr Hekmatyar is now in Kabul. He is living there peacefully. He has his own ideas. He is outspoken about his ideas, some of which is what we don’t agree but that’s the future type of Afghanistan we want to have where people with diverse ideas should live together,” Abdullah said.
He added, “But the fact that he opted for peaceful settlement through negotiations, direct negotiations with the Afghan government that will remain in history… and, hopefully, that agreement which is there will work in the interest of the Afghan people.”
In August, during a webinar on Kashmir where Hekmatyar was a participant, he had said India should “learn a lesson from Afghan jihad”.
“With the continuation of the suffering of our own people, more terrorist groups will find ways and more countries will be impacted adversely. That’s not good for anybody. In a situation where people with a lot of ideas live in peace and compete with their ideas peacefully, that is something we want to opt for. Eventually, this will hopefully materialise,” Abdullah said.
“We cannot force people to think differently but the idea is to create a place for competition of different ideas, but through peaceful means, without relying on terrorist groups,” he said, adding that the intra-Afghan talks will continue despite all odds.
“I believe the intra-Afghan talks will continue, we also expect the Taliban to do so, otherwise, it means they will be opting for a military solution, which is not good for the country and that cannot be not a solution.”
This is an updated version of the report