Three days after India took the plunge on engaging with the Taliban at the first Intra-Afghan Negotiations, U.S. Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla during a brief four-hour visit to Delhi.
“Mr. Khalilzad appreciated India’s participation in the Intra-Afghan Negotiations (IAN) held in Doha on September 12. He briefed about the U.S. assessment of the IAN and shared the U.S. perspective on the Afghan peace process,” official sources said.
“The two sides discussed future steps and possible cooperation between India and the U.S. in furthering the Afghan peace process,” the sources said.
During the talks, both sides stressed on the need for regional support for the Afghan peace process, that could see the Taliban being brought into the political mainstream in Kabul, and on the importance of ending transnational terrorism from Afghan soil.
“The United States and India share the view that the peace process must continue until there is agreement on a political roadmap and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire. The Afghan sides should ensure their territory must not be used by any terrorist group against any other country,” said a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Delhi.
On Saturday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke via video-conference at the inaugural session of the Intra-Afghan Negotiations (IAN) in Doha, the first time that an Indian official has addressed a gathering that included the Taliban (which India has thus far considered a terror group). New Delhi also sent a high-level official delegation, led by the MEA point person for Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, J.P. Singh.
Also read: Afghan groups urged to reach ceasefire
The MEA did not respond to a question on whether the Indian officials had met with Taliban representatives directly. However, a senior government official said that “by participating in IAN at Doha, India has already engaged all parties,” signalling a major shift in Indian policy.
This was Mr. Khalilzad’s 5th visit to New Delhi since he was appointed the U.S. Special Representative on Afghanistan Reconciliation by U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018. In an interview to The Hindu in May 2020, Mr. Khalilzad had advocated an official India-Taliban engagement, saying it would be “appropriate” given India’s importance in Afghanistan. However, the government had refused to comment on the statement then.
Mr. Khalilzad flew into New Delhi on a special plane on Tuesday, accompanied by a three-member team, directly from Pakistan. With the Intra-Afghan negotiations underway in Qatar, the U.S. Special Envoy is pushing for a ceasefire, and during his meetings with the Pakistani army Chief General Bajwa and Pakistan’s special envoy on Afghanistan, Mohammad Sadiq, he reportedly asked for Pakistan’s support in convincing the Taliban to commit to a reduction or cessation of violence.
“Matters of mutual interest, regional security and ongoing Afghan Reconciliation Process were discussed during the meeting. The visiting dignitary (Mr. Khalilzad) greatly appreciated Pakistan’s role in the ongoing peace process and said it could not have succeeded without Pakistan’s sincere and unconditional support,” said the Pakistani army spokesperson in a tweet.
India was invited to the inaugural session by the Qatari Foreign Minister, along with other regional countries. An Afghan official told The Hindu that Pakistan had opposed the move to invite India, but that the Ghani government in Kabul had insisted on it, and the U.S. had backed the move.
“[Tuesday’s] discussions are a reflection of the India-U.S. strategic partnership which provides for close consultations between the two countries on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest,” government sources said about Mr. Khalilzad’s meeting in Delhi.