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New Delhi: India on Friday flagged its concerns over proposed talks between the US and the Taliban and associated insurgent groups such as the Haqqani network, as it underlined the centrality of the government of President Hamid Karzai in the peace process in Afghanistan.

The comments came on the eve of the visit of US secretary of state John Kerry to India.

In a strongly worded statement that made clear that there were differences between India and the US on the peace process in Afghanistan, foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said India was “committed to supporting the government and the people of Afghanistan... and a reconciliation process that has the support of the government and the people of Afghanistan."

India, he said, “has always called for a broad-based Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled reconciliation process, within the framework of the Afghan Constitution and the internationally accepted red lines."

However, India accepted for the first time the hardline Sunni Pashtun Taliban as being among the groups that could be accommodated into the Afghan mainstream.

“Such a process would necessarily recognise the centrality of the government of Afghanistan in the process, and involve all sections of the Afghan society, as also the insurgent groups, including the Taliban, who wish to join the mainstream," the spokesman said.

“That is a departure from our previous position," a person familiar with the developments said.

India had previously maintained that the international community could not draw distinctions within the Taliban to class them as “good Taliban" and “bad Taliban", with the former allowed to join the political process and integrated into the mainstream.

The government’s urging that the peace process should be “Afghan-controlled" was also new and this was meant to convey that the US should not impose any solution or try and control the peace process, the person mentioned above said.

The Indian statement warned that “the (Afghan) reconciliation process should not seek to create equivalence between an internationally recognised government of Afghanistan and insurgent groups, confer legitimacy to insurgent groups or convey the impression of two competing state authorities for Afghanistan, which could undermine the legitimate Afghan state, Afghan government and the political, social and economic progress witnessed in Afghanistan over the past decade, to which the international community itself has contributed in great measure."

India’s remarks follow Washington this week announcing talks with the Taliban after the latter opened its office in the Qatari capital Doha as part of US moves to exit Afghanistan next year, officially closing the war on terrorism that was launched in November 2001 after the attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September that year.

The Taliban office in Doha was called the office of the “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan"—the formal name of the 1996-2001 Taliban government. The Hamid Karzai government, which saw this as a sign of the Taliban usurping Afghan sovereignty, in protest called off security talks with the US earlier this week that were to focus on, among other things, the number of US troops to be stationed in Afghanistan after the pullout by international troops.

India has been disturbed by reports that the US is willing to talk to the Taliban and associated groups such as the Haqqani network that it blames for the July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed four Indians, including two diplomats, and 58 others.

There is also concern over reported comments by US officials that the Barack Obama administration would not insist on the Taliban formally rejecting al-Qaeda—one among the several key “red lines" set out by former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2011 as preconditions for any probable talks with the Taliban.

“We have laid out our unambiguous red lines for reconciliation with the insurgents: they must renounce violence; they must abandon their alliance with al-Qaeda; and they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan," Clinton had said.

Kerry is to travel to Qatar on the first leg of a trip that will bring him to New Delhi on Sunday, his first visit to India after taking over as secretary of state.

Vikram Doraiswamy, joint secretary in charge of the US in the ministry of external affairs, confirmed that Afghanistan would be one of the issues on the agenda when Kerry sits for talks with Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid on Monday.

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