As representatives of the Afghanistan government prepare for another round of talks in Pakistan with Taliban representatives on Friday, India is being frozen out of the talks. The official stand of the government is that it is “supportive of the peace process” provided “it brings genuine peace and internationally accepted red lines.” However, officials in Delhi and Kabul have toldThe Hindu that India is far from comfortable with the “direction the talks are taking,” saying that “all red lines have been violated so far.”
In 2010, former President Hamid Karzai had listed these ‘red lines’ as an acceptance of the Afghan constitution; peace or a ceasefire as a pre-condition for talks; and following an ‘Afghan-owned, Afghan-led’ process, which had been endorsed by the UPA government.
In contrast, the current round of talks initiated by President Ashraf Ghani is happening without a ceasefire in place, where Taliban representatives are pushing for the re-establishment of an Islamic Emirate, rather than the constitution. In addition, the talks are being hosted by the Pakistan government, with senior ISI intelligence officials sitting in on all the discussions that were held on July 7 in the Pakistani hill station of Murree between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders produced by Pakistan.
Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif has also been credited by both US Generals as well as the Afghan President Ghani’s government for “facilitating” the talks.
“Far from Afghan-owned, these talks seem to be ISI-controlled and ISI-led,” one official told The Hindu.
The next round of talks are expected to be held Pakistan on July 31, according to a representative of the Afghanistan Peace council.
Initial negotiations between Afghanistan Peace envoys and various Taliban leaders in this round began in May this year, with representatives of the UN, US and China attending as observers at a meeting in Doha in early May. This was followed by a second round of talks in Urumqi, in China’s Xinjiang province in the third week of May. However, the “Murree peace talks” of July 7-8, as they are referred to by the Pakistan government, were the first officially acknowledged round of talks from all sides.
Unlike other abortive attempts for talks, officials in the US and China characterised the Murree talks as a success. On July 8, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States welcomed the talks, calling them “an important step toward advancing prospects for a credible peace”, adding that the US “acknowledged and appreciated Pakistan's important efforts to host these conversations,” while Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying China viewed the talks “positively”.
“A second face-to-face meeting in less than a month clearly suggests a forward movement,” a senior Pakistani official told Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune on Monday. “A truce and other CBMs will top the agenda when both sides meet on July 31,” he added. The Taliban has also brought up other demands, including the release of Taliban leaders from US custody in Guantanamo Bay, and of removing other leaders from the UN sanctions list under Resolution 1267.
India has made no official statement about the current round of talks, which have blind-sided the government with their speed and progress. Officials remain sceptical about whether the talks will resolve the violence in Afghanistan, as the Taliban continues to carry out attacks in the country.
“With each round of talks, both Afghanistan and the international community are accepting that the Taliban is a legitimate representative of Afghans, when in fact they are a terror group under Pakistani control,” said a senior diplomat.”
However officials in New Delhi and Kabul concede that given that India has little say in the outcome, the government will take a more “realistic” position. “We will convey our unease and concerns,” one official told The Hindu , “but quietly, and only to those willing to listen.”
US and China characterised the Islamabad-hosted ‘Murree talks’, attended by ISI officials, as a success