ANI special report
Afghanistan leader and Chairman of High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), Abdullah Abdullah concluded his visit in India on Saturday, where he was invited by the Indian government to discuss peace efforts and support for the Afghan peace process. In a Twitter post, the Afghan peace negotiator thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, among others, for their hospitality.
On Thursday, Abdullah met PM Modi and Doval, where he reaffirmed the long-term commitment to further deepen India-Afghan ties. A day later, Jaishankar met Abdullah and assured him of India’s commitment to peace, prosperity and stability in the neighbouring country. This was the first visit of Abdullah to India after the formation of a new government in Afghanistan.
His visit came at a time when the Afghanistan government and Taliban are trying to negotiate a deal in order to restore peace in the country. The peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban began on September 12 in Qatar’s capital Doha to end decades of war in which tens of thousands have been killed.
The intra-Afghan talks was a key element in the peace deal signed between the United States and the Taliban in Doha on February 29 between the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader.
At the conclusion of his five-day visit, in an interview, Afghan chief peace envoy said on Saturday that India’s civil and military leaderships are supportive of an inclusive, peaceful settlement of the Afghan peace process and that Kabul’s interactions with New Delhi are expected to further deepen in the coming weeks and months.
In an interview in the Indian capital, Abdullah Abdullah said that while the issue of Afghanistan involves the international community at large, he hopes that India will play an important role in the peace process by encouraging the voices of tolerance and coexistence.
India also espouses for a peaceful Afghanistan which is in peace within the country and a democratic Afghanistan which does not harbour terrorist groups,” Abdullah said. This is in line with the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan and the sacrifices our people have made for it. Abdullah’s New Delhi visit comes at a crucial time for India, which is looking to cement its efforts to protect its strategic interests in Afghanistan amid Pakistan’s growing influence in the region and an expected US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan.
It also signals a gradual shift in India’s approach in dealing with the ongoing Afghan peace process that began two years ago, for which it has been invited to take part in for the first time. As chief of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah oversees the government side in negotiations. This is his first visit to India after the formation of the new government in Kabul following last year’s election.
Abdullah’s India trip, which took place a week after his visit to Pakistan, comes as Kabul’s government negotiators are meeting with Taliban representatives in Qatar to plot a future course for a post-war Afghanistan. Abdullah said he was encouraged by the talks he had with the Indian leadership that centered around peace and stability in the region. He said Indian leadership assured him that India will back any settlement acceptable to the Afghan people.
Abdullah, who landed in India on Tuesday met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and other high-ranking Indian officials, including the army chief, Bipin Rawat. A statement released by India’s foreign ministry on Thursday said that in his meeting with Abdullah, Modi called for India’s commitment towards sustainable peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and welcomed efforts towards a comprehensive and permanent” ceasefire in Afghanistan. Over the years, India has provided Afghan security forces with operational training and military equipment, even though it has had no troops on the ground. It is the region’s largest provider of development aid to Afghanistan and has often expressed concerns over violence by the Taliban.
Abdullah Abdullah said that his discussion with the top Indian leadership was around “peace” process and said Afghanistan did not ask for direct engagement from India to tackle Taliban. He also said there are different countries playing various roles in Afghanistan and India’s role will also be appreciated. “The topic of discussion was around peace in what was going on in the negotiations and what different countries can do. India as an important country, which has helped Afghanistan throughout many years has a lot at stake in peaceful Afghanistan. The continuation of the war is an adverse impact,” Abdullah said in an exclusive interview with ANI.
He said it depends on the Indian government’s decision on engaging with the Taliban. “I did not ask directly for engagement with the Taliban but at the same time, I encouraged in the peace process as a whole in general. There are different countries playing different roles in Afghanistan. India’s role will also be appreciated,” he said.
When asked whether Afghanistan wants India to engage with the Taliban, he said: “It depends on the Indian government’s decision. But as a whole India is supportive of the peace process which is important.” While talking about key takeaways from interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Abdullah said that India wants Afghan-led negotiation and inclusive settlement acceptable to Afghans. “My takeaway from my interaction with PM Modi is that India wants Afghan-led negotiation and inclusive settlement acceptable to Afghans. A unified Afghanistan, which does not harbour terror groups,” he said.
Asked whether he discussed the military role of India in Afghanistan, Abdullah said: “No. Absolutely not. I did not raise that idea. The point is that we hope that Afghanistan will be able to stand on its own feet. As you know that US troops are the main part of it. They have withdrawn from Afghanistan. Still, they are present there but that will not be forever.”
“It is important for the people of Afghanistan to find a way to live in peace with one another. Then find an arrangement for the security of the country. Then other countries can help in peace in their own ways,” he said.
Abdullah Abdullah said he did not discuss the military role of India in Afghanistan during talks with Indian leadership over Afghan peace process. “No. Absolutely not. I did not raise that idea. The point is that we hope that Afghanistan will be able to stand on its own feet. As you know that US troops are the main part of it. They have withdrawn from Afghanistan. Still, they are present there but that will not be forever,” Abdullah told ANI when asked whether he discussed any probable military role of India in Afghanistan.
The Afghan leader, said people of Afghanistan expect a settlement where no terrorist group will be able to work or use Afghan soil against any other country. “When we say peace, stability, we hold the whole context of it. It will not mean peace if we have an agreement only with the Taliban and then all the terrorist groups including Al Qaeda, ISIS from the region continue freelancing in Afghanistan. People of Afghanistan are expecting a settlement where no terrorist group will be able to work on or use Afghan soil against any other country. Peaceful Afghanistan, democratic Afghanistan, not harbouring terrorist this is the concerns of lots of countries of the region,” he said on being asked about India’s fear regarding Pakistan-backed terror groups, which has a direct influence on Taliban may hijack the Afghan peace process. (ANI)