‘Afghan leadership won’t have concerns if India engages with Taliban’: Abdullah Abdullah

The Afghan leadership won’t have concerns if India decides to engage with the Taliban, though a final decision in this matter is New Delhi’s prerogative, Afghan peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah said on Saturday.

Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, is the senior-most Afghan leader to publicly speak on this issue which has been the subject of a debate within diplomatic and decision-making circles in New Delhi since last year.

Following his meetings this week with India’s top leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, external affairs minister S Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Abdullah said in an interview that he hadn’t discussed any “military role” for India in Afghanistan during his talks in New Delhi.

Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, had suggested earlier this year that India should directly engage the Taliban to discuss its concerns related to terror, reinvigorating the debate on whether New Delhi should talk to the group. However, diplomatic circles remain scecal about the Taliban’s intentions in view of the group’s deep ties with the Pakistani security establishment.

India’s decision to send an official delegation to the inauguration of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha and the external affairs minister’s address to the event via video conference signalled towards a possible shift in New Delhi’s position.

Abdullah said he had come to New Delhi to brief the leadership here on the Doha negotiations since India has contributed to the well-being of the Afghan people and is a “country which has a lot at stake in a peaceful settlement of the situation”. He added, “We were happy that external affairs minister S Jaishankar also addressed the conference [in Doha].”

Acknowledging that the pace of the talks in Doha “is perhaps a bit slow” and that there needs to be a “significant reduction in violence” by the Taliban, Abdullah said the Afghan government delegation has been advised to be “patient, flexible, innovative and try to find a solution”.

“Are both sides equally determined to achieve peace and utilise this opportunity for the best interest of our own people? That would be put to test. I have no doubt in my mind about the determination of the delegation from… Afghanistan,” he added.

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s stated intention of pulling out all US troops from Afghanistan by late December, Abdullah reiterated such a move would have consequences.

“If it is a premature withdrawal, it will… have consequences but eventually we need to stand on our own feet. But it will not be the end of US commitment in support of Afghanistan and we believe their commitment is long-term,” he said.

“What brought them to Afghanistan was terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan, which hurt them back in the US and I do not think that they want that situation to prevail in Afghanistan because we still have those challenges, including Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups.”

Responding to a question on the possible impact of India’s current tensions with both Pakistan and China, Abdullah acknowledged that such issues “certainly will have some repercussions for us”, but insisted that a “peaceful [and] stable Afghanistan is in the interest of everybody”.

‘Afghan leadership won’t have concerns if India engages with Taliban’: Abdullah Abdullah