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With Kashmir as subtext, Taliban reinforces call for dialogue with India

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. | File

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. | File   | Photo Credit: AP

‘The policy of the Islamic Emirate is clear that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries,’ Suhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesperson in Doha, affirmed in a tweet

The Taliban has reinforced its intent to engage with India by nudging its readiness to accept Kashmir as India’s internal affair amid a new round of international diplomacy to encourage a broad-based political settlement in Afghanistan.

A tweet by the spokesman of its Doha office on Monday pointed to Taliban’s preparedness to green-light Kashmir as India’s internal affair — a move that could provide an important opening for India’s engagement with the group, which took root in Pakistan.

Also read: Important for India to be ‘close’ to Taliban, says U.S.

“The statement that has been published in some media about India is not relevant to the Islamic Emirate. The policy of the Islamic Emirate is clear that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries,” Suhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesperson in Doha, affirmed in a tweet.

Mr. Shaheen’s comments followed an earlier tweet on Sunday attributed to Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid which had said that, “Muslims cannot be friends with kuffar (infidels). Until the Kashmir matter is not resolved; we will not be friends with #India...”

“The Taliban are clearly sending a signal that they want to open a channel of communication with India. India, on its part should not miss this opportunity as it may not be available forever. But before going deeper, New Delhi must also unambiguously ascertain whether the Taliban have taken a strategic decision of engaging with India, or have merely launched a tactical manoeuvre, from where they could backtrack in the future,” says P. Stobdan, former ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, in a conversation with The Hindu.

Separately, in an interview with this newspaper, Mr. Shaheen slammed those in India who opposed a dialogue with the group. He maintained that the Indian officials who opposed engagement with the Taliban were “following a failed policy”.

“As such, they are not speaking for the interests of the people of India while they should, and are in fact, speaking for the interests of a few at the saddle of power in Kabul. Consequently, India could not find a proper place among the masses of Afghanistan despite spending a lot in the country.”

The Americans are also pressing India to open talks with the Taliban. U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad stressed during a May 8 interview with The Hindu, “that dialogue between India and the Taliban is important, and it would be important that issues of concern like this [terrorism] are raised directly”.

The undercurrents of a direct and open contacts between India and Taliban have become stronger amid major changes in Afghanistan’s domestic and external environment. The government in Kabul is looking stronger after President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah ended their three-month discord, and agreed to form a unity government on Sunday. They also concurred on setting up a Reconciliation Council led by Mr. Abdullah that is expected to dialogue with Taliban, after overriding current differences between the two on the mechanics of prisoner swap deal.

New political reality

The emergence of a new political reality in Afghanistan is tied with the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops, which had been deployed in the backdrop of the 9/11 bombing of the twin towers by Al-Qaeda, in New York. Mr. Khalilzad, the face of the new round of U.S. diplomatic heavy lifting in Afghanistan, is back in Kabul this week for talks with the Afghan government, after a new round of negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, Mr. Ghani’s office confirmed on Wednesday.

Regarding possible India-Taliban talks, Mr. Stobdan said it was important to recognise and evaluate the weight of various factions within the Taliban and their foreign allegiances, which are seldom static. “India has to be wary of the role of Pakistan’s key asset, the Haqqani network, which is the main conduit for recruiting foreign fighters, led by Sirajudin Haqqani, whose influence in the Taliban is significant,” he observed. But the former diplomat added that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the head of the Hizb-e-Islami, a one-time favourite of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), has stepped out of line.

As the new government began to take shape in Kabul earlier this week, Fazl Hadi Wazin, Mr. Hekmatyar’s deputy, asserted that the government being formed in Kabul “needs to be ‘truly inclusive’ and should cover all prominent political parties in Afghanistan,” Tolo News, the Afghan television station reported on its website.

In tune with Mr. Khalilzad’s latest initiative, the Russians and other regional countries, gauging the fluidity of the situation, were also quick off the blocks, following the power-sharing deal. During a video conference on Monday called by Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Presidential envoy, on Afghanistan Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan unveiled their expectations from the Afghan reconciliation process. In a joint statement, the quartet urged an “inclusive ceasefire in Afghanistan” — a call which may not favour Mr. Ghani, who had launched a new offensive against Taliban, accusing it of marshalling an attack on the maternity ward in a Kabul hospital last week.

The four special envoys also counselled Washington not to conduct a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. Besides, they exhorted “all parties in Afghanistan,” to curb terrorism by adopting “serious measures” against Al-Qaeda, the ISIS, the East Turkistan Movement, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and the other terrorist organisations that run operations against the regional countries.

The Iranians especially spotlighted respect for “ethnic and religious” minorities — a veiled reference to ethnic Hazara, Shia and Tajik communities that share strong historical bonds with Tehran. In a separate statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also glazed Beijing’s geo-economic interests by pointing to China’s support for Afghanistan's “peaceful reconstruction”. China wants Afghanistan to become part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, providing the landlocked country access to the China-run Gwadar port in the Indian Ocean.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 4:36:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/news-analysis-with-kashmir-as-subtext-taliban-reinforces-call-for-dialogue-with-india/article31638196.ece

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