India must continue to push for Afghanistan elections, said former Afghanistan Ambassador to India and presidential contender Shaida Abdali, cautioning against an “indifferent” attitude from New Delhi towards the progress being made in talks with the Taliban.
The comments came just as diplomats from the U.S., Russia China and Pakistan met in Beijing to discuss the peace process in Afghanistan.
“It is necessary that a good neighbour like India remain engaged on major international and regional conferences that deal with Afghanistan and the peace process. India must remain an active participant so as to ensure that we don’t reverse the gains of the last 18 years,” Mr. Abdali told The Hindu during a visit here.
On July 10 and 11, the four-nation talks in Beijing agreed to step up efforts for an intra-Afghan dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government in the next few weeks. It is being seen as the next step in the reconciliation process.
The discussions were led by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has just completed the eighth round of talks with Taliban leaders in Doha, where he claimed “substantial progress” had been made on issues like the intra-Afghan dialogue, Taliban guarantees on terrorism, withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, and a possible ceasefire. However, there is still some uncertainty over whether Afghan presidential elections, scheduled at present for September 28, will go ahead as planned.
India has publicly cautioned against postponing presidential polls, and has shown hesitation about joining talks with the Taliban, given the group’s history as a terror group and its links with Pakistan. It is also not officially involved in any of the major regional multilateral conferences held for discussing Afghanistan’s future.
The elections have already been postponed twice this year, and many of the 18 candidates are worried that a further postponement till next year will jeopardise the entire process. Another issue is over the constitutional validity of President Ghani’s government post-October, and the installation of an interim Afghan government in its place.
“One of the most critical gains post-2001 is our democratic process — which must not be affected without full international guarantees that Afghanistan will not reverse to pre-2001 dark era … India should build on its democratic traditions to promote democratic process and elections in Afghanistan,” Mr. Abdali said, stressing that India must exert its “special” role in the process.
Mr. Abdali also appealed to the government to maintain its interest in Iran's Chabahar port as an alternative route for India-Afghanistan trade, despite the U.S. sanctions.