New Delhi: Washington and New Delhi discussed “future steps” and “possible cooperation” in the ongoing intra-Afghan peace dialogue as the US Special Representative on Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, dropped by for his fifth visit to India since January 2019, ThePrint has learnt.
Khalilzad met External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla as he arrived in New Delhi Tuesday. He last came to India in May, when the entire country was under the Covid-19 lockdown.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) September 15, 2020
India has maintained all through the peace process that it will not directly negotiate with the Taliban. However, in a major development, diplomatic sources said India has agreed with the US that the latter should remain present in Afghanistan unless a “permanent ceasefire” is achieved between Kabul and the Taliban.
During the meeting Tuesday, the sources said, both sides deliberated on ways “to promote regional and international cooperation with regard to Afghanistan”.
“The United States and India share the view that the peace process must continue until there is agreement on a political roadmap and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire. The Afghan sides should ensure their territory must not be used by any terrorist group against any other country,” said a statement issued by the US Embassy.
It added, “Ambassador Khalilzad stressed regional and international support is critical for the success of these negotiations and the implementation of any agreement. India and the United States will work together in support of this objective.”
‘Appreciation for India’
The US and the Taliban had signed a so-called “peace deal” in February this year that seeks to bring an end to years of conflict in Afghanistan, which has been reeling under decades of war. Under the deal, the US and the NATO allies have agreed to withdraw all their forces from the war-torn country, two decades after US invaded Afghanistan in light of 9/11 to hunt down al-Qaeda.
At the Taliban’s instance, the peace deal didn’t involve the Afghan government.
However, the deal set the stage for an intra-Afghan dialogue — between the Ashraf Ghani government and the Taliban — which began last week in Doha, Qatar. India was among the participants at the opening of the dialogue, which is aimed at establishing a power-sharing deal that will help end decades of war in the country.
Making a virtual address at the launch, Jaishankar said the peace process should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led, and stressed the need to respect Afghanistan’s “national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
At the meeting Tuesday, sources said, Khalilzad appreciated India’s participation in the intra-Afghan negotiations and also briefed New Delhi about the “US assessment” of the exercise.
Both sides also expressed similar views on the importance of long-term assistance, trade, and investment for consolidating a peace agreement for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan, the region, and beyond, sources said.
Tuesday’s discussions, sources added, are a reflection of the India-US strategic partnership, which provides for close consultations between the two countries on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest.
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