India is pushing for a comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan amid a massive spike in violence in that country and reports of its contact with the Taliban for the first time in the backdrop of a renewed push for the Afghan peace process. The reports of India reaching out to the Taliban emerged as the US looked to complete the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan by September 11, ending a nearly two-decade of its military presence in the war-ravaged country.
In the midst of fast-paced developments relating to the Afghan peace process, a senior Qatari diplomat said at a webinar organised by the Arab Center in Washington DC on Monday that he believed the Indian side was engaging with the Taliban as the group could be a key component in the future of Afghanistan. The Taliban and the Afghan government are holding direct talks in the Qatari capital city Doha to end 19 years of war that has killed tens of thousands of people and ravaged various parts of the country. Qatar has been playing a role in the Afghan peace process.
“I understand that there has been a quiet visit by Indian officials…to speak with the Talibans. Why? Because not everybody is believing that the Taliban will dominate and take over, because Taliban is a key component of, or should be or is going to be a key component of the future of Afghanistan,” said Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, Qatar’s envoy for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution. He made the remarks while replying to a question during a discussion on the theme “Looking towards peace in Afghanistan after the US-NATO withdrawal.” “I see the reason behind having a dialogue or talks or reaching out to all parties in Afghanistan but it is important to keep in mind that we are in a critical stage at this time, and I think if any meeting is going to take place, it should be for a major or main reason, which is to encourage the parties to solve their differences by peaceful means,” al-Qahtani said.
There was no official reaction to the comments by the senior Qatari diplomat. Indian officials said India is concerned over the spike in violence in Afghanistan and has been strongly pressing for a comprehensive ceasefire to take forward the peace process. Recently, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made two stop-overs in Doha during his visits to Kuwait and Kenya. In his talks with senior Qatari leaders in Doha, the issue of Afghanistan was discussed as the Gulf country is involved in the Afghan peace process. Jaishankar also held talks on the issue with US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad in the Qatari capital.
Earlier this month, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that India is in touch with various stakeholders in Afghanistan in pursuance of its long-term commitment towards peace, development and reconstruction of that country. His response had come when asked about a media report that said India reached out to certain Taliban factions that are perceived to be outside the sphere of influence of Pakistan and Iran.
Last week, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said that the Taliban’s relentless pursuit of power through violence has created an uncertain environment in Afghanistan and the situation in the country is “fluid” at this point in time. India has been a major stakeholder in the peace and stability of Afghanistan. It has already invested close to USD three billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country.
India has been supporting a national peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. In March, Afghan foreign minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar visited India during which Jaishankar conveyed to him India’s long-term commitment towards a peaceful, sovereign and stable Afghanistan.