U.S. recognises India’s role in Afghanistan: Khalilzad
The U.S. recognises India’s “constructive contribution” to Afghanistan, said U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who came to Delhi on Thursday and met with External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar and National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval to brief them on progress in the peace process that has faltered in the past few weeks.
Expressing “deep concern” about the increase in violence in Afghanistan, Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Doval made a particular mention of the need to protect “Afghan Hindus and Sikhs,” and said India supported the call for a ceasefire to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
“The U.S. side recognised India’s constructive contribution in economic development, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. They laid importance to India’s crucial and continuing role in sustainable peace, security and stability in Afghanistan,” a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said after the meeting, which was also attended by U.S. National Security Council Director Lisa Curtis and U.S. Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster.
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“EAM and NSA reiterated India’s continued support for strengthening peace, security, unity, democratic and inclusive polity and protection of rights of all sections of the Afghan society, including Afghan Hindus and Sikhs,” the statement added.
Mr. Khalilzad was in Delhi, a rare visitor during the coronavirus lockdown in the middle of a 3-city trip to Doha, Delhi and Islamabad. “At each stop, he will urge support for an immediate reduction in violence, accelerated time line for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, and cooperation among all sides in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan,” a State department release said on Wednesday.
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According to the U.S. State department, the trip is meant to build support for the full implementation of the US-Taliban agreement, which has been derailed by differences between the Afghan government and the Taliban over the release of prisoners. In Doha, he met with Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Baradar and Qatari officials. According to Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen they discussed the “speedy release of prisoners and intra-Afghan talks,” as well as the full implementation of the U.S.-Taliban deal, which calls for a pull out of U.S. troops.
In Delhi, Mr. Khalilzad was due to “discuss the important role of India in a sustainable peace in Afghanistan and the region.” India was not included in a UN-coordinated “6+2+1” meeting of Afghanistan, its neighbours and U.S. and Russia on April 16, an exclusion New Delhi is understood to have protested. However, Afghan officials have hinted that they are speaking to the UN, U.S. and others about a broader “6+4” formation for regional talks on Afghanistan soon, which would include India. The MEA declined to comment on whether Mr. Khalilzad had discussed this further.
His next stop to Islamabad is also expected to stress the need for a ceasefire, which the Taliban has rejected, and to push for support in kick-starting intra-Afghan talks, which have already missed the deadline of March 10, set in the U.S.-Taliban February agreement, by two months.
In a reminder of India’s concerns over Pakistan’s role, the MEA said Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Doval “emphasised that putting an end to terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries is necessary for enduring and sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan,” during the meeting in Delhi.