Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei: India on Tuesday said that it recognized a role for the Taliban in the peace process in Afghanistan, a departure from its earlier position that shunned a role for the Sunni hardline group.
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid said India supported the efforts made by the government of war-torn Afghanistan to establish a dialogue with all armed opposition groups, “including the Taliban”.
Khurshid was speaking at the 20th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Regional Forum—which discusses regional security issues—in the Bruneian capital Bandar Seri Begawan.
India had rejected distinctions made by Western countries between “good” and “bad” Taliban, seeking to include the former in talks. The militant group—allied to Pakistan—administered large parts of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
The peace process should be a broad-based, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process, Khurshid said, adding that internationally accepted conditions—that those joining the process must adhere to the Afghan constitution, reject violence and severe links with the Al Qaeda—should be adhered to.
“This dialogue must involve all sections of the Afghan society and armed opposition groups, including the Taliban,” Khurshid said, though he warned that the “reconciliation process must not undermine the legitimacy of the Afghan state and government and the political, social and economic progress witnessed in Afghanistan over the past decade”.
He was referring to reports of the Taliban raising its own white flag atop its office that it opened in Qatar last month and declaring that the office represented the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. This angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who saw the twin moves as challenging the Afghan state’s sovereignty.
In a pointed reference to plans by the US-led international troops to leave Afghanistan next year, Khurshid stated that “India’s Afghanistan policy does not have an exit policy. India has played an important role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan”.
Since 2001, when the US-led international troops ousted the Taliban from Kabul, India committed $2 billion for aid and reconstruction.
Without naming Pakistan, Khurshid called for the elimination of “terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens beyond Afghan borders” and the disruption of “financial and tactical support for terrorism”. The call came hours after Khurshid’s first face-to-face talks with Sartaj Aziz, adviser on foreign affairs to Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“We must assist Afghanistan in its efforts to become a stable, democratic and pluralistic state. The international community must stay committed to Afghanistan in the form of development and security assistance during this period of transition and transformation,” Khurshid said while calling for concerted global action against terrorism.
Elizabeth Roche is in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, as a part of an India-Asean media exchange programme.