Afghanistan wants a larger role for India in the peace and reconciliation process, said visiting Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar, adding that he had discussed President Ghani’s new peace plan, the ongoing Intra-Afghan dialogue and “Extended Troika” talks in Moscow last week with the Indian leadership. Mr. Atmar met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Tuesday, after holding bilateral talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Monday.
“India has legitimate interests in the peace and security of Afghanistan and we are seeking a greater role for India,” Mr. Atmar told journalists at the Indian Women’s Press Corps after his official meetings in Delhi. “We are negotiating to make sure that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for international terrorists who are keen to turn it not just in their battlefield but into a safe haven including, unfortunately, against India as well. So, India has a role not just in Afghanistan but with other regional and international partners,” he said.
After his meeting with Mr. Doval, the Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Mr. Atmar had discussed the Ghani government peace plan, which is understood to include fresh elections within the year if the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire, and for Mr. Ghani to hand over power to the elected government. The plan runs counter to the U.S. proposal, revealed in a leaked letter from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, that suggests Afghan-Taliban negotiations for a power sharing arrangement, and for an interim government to take over from President Ghani’s government.
“[Mr. Atmar] said the plan would pave the way for a lasting peace based on the will of the Afghan people and strengthen Afghanistan’s role as a bridge for connectivity and cooperation between regional countries and the international community,” an MFA readout of the meeting said, adding that Mr. Doval had said “the unity among Afghans and consensus at regional and international levels were essential factors for achieving sustainable peace”.
In a separate statement on Tuesday, the Afghanistan MFA said Mr. Atmar had also briefed Mr. Jaishankar on the U.S.-China-Russia-Pakistan meeting in Moscow on March 18, that had included a major delegation of Afghan and Taliban leaders, as a “positive” step.
“India stated its readiness to participate in regional conferences on peace and development in Afghanistan,” the statement said, referring to the upcoming Heart of Asia conference in Tajikistan on March 30 as well as proposed U.N.-led regional talks in Turkey. Mr. Atmar told journalists that Mr. Jaishankar confirmed that he would attend the 15-nation Heart of Asia conference, which will include Russia, China, UAE, Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian countries. It is still unclear whether Mr. Jaishankar will hold formal talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the side-lines of the conference.
Asked about the India-Pakistan peace process, details of which have appeared after the announcement of the DGMO ceasefire in February, Mr. Atmar said Afghanistan would “fully welcome any political measure to reduce tension and resolve conflict".
Mr. Atmar also thanked India for its development assistance including the recently announced MoU for construction of the Shahtoot dam to deliver drinking water to Kabul, and for delivering vaccines to Afghanistan “when they were needed the most”. He said his government is grateful to India for giving shelter to Afghan minority Hindus and Sikhs for “decades”, but did not agree that minorities were the only ones targeted. "The violence against Afghans, unfortunately, did not spare our minorities either. So, it is not a kind of persecution against specific minorities per se. It’s the general violence against the entire nation and unfortunately, this part of the population has been disproportionately affected,” he said..