New Delhi: Britain’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mark Sedwill, is in New Delhi to hold talks with Indian officials ahead of a crucial international conference on war-ravaged Afghanistan that Pakistan has threatened to boycott.
The 5 December conference in Bonn, Germany, aims to chart the future course of international engagement with Afghanistan, from where foreign troops are due to withdraw in 2014. A similar conference was held at the same venue a decade ago after a US-led invasion toppled the Taliban government in Kabul. Taliban insurgents continue to challenge the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Foreign minister S M Krishna. File photo.
Sedwill will hold talks with India’s foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai and special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Satinder Lambah on Friday, said a government official. He may also meet national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, said the official, asking not to be identified.
Around 90 delegations with 1,000 participants are expected to attend the Bonn conference, the German foreign ministry said on its website. Karzai will preside over the conference.
“Next week’s meeting offers a critical moment for the international community to reinforce its long-term commitment to Afghanistan,” British foreign secretary William Hague said in an article published in The Times of India on Thursday. “We all share a common objective to ensure that the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism. And we also share a common purpose: to build the capacity of the Afghan government and the Afghan national security forces so that Afghans themselves can be responsible for their own territory and their own future.”
India, which will be represented at the conference by foreign minister S.M. Krishna, considers Afghanistan a part of its extended neighbourhood. It has pledged $2 billion (around Rs 10,200 crore) for relief and reconstruction efforts in the country. India and Afghanistan signed a strategic pact in October under which India will train Afghan army and police force personnel to help them take on the security challenges in their country.
The conference is taking place at a time when ties between the US and its key ally in the region, Pakistan, have frayed—particularly after 24 Pakistani soldiers died in a 2-hour aerial attack over the weekend by US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Pakistan has since closed the land route to the Afghan border used by Nato to ship supplies to troops based in Afghanistan and said it won’t attend the Bonn conference in protest.
Pakistan “stands to lose more by not attending the conference given its paranoia about India,” former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said.
Pakistan, which has been accused of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups fighting the international troops in Afghanistan, wants a friendly government in Kabul that it can fall back on in case of a war with India. New Delhi on its part wants a neutral government in Afghanistan that will not be inimical to its interests.
“But given that Pakistan had raised the pitch so much against the US and Nato after the weekend strikes, it will be very difficult to climb down and attend the meet” as public sentiment in Pakistan is very much against the US, Sibal added.