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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

On Afghan peace tour, US envoy again skips India tour

Khalilzad recently held a marathon round of talks with the Taliban leadership in Qatar, during which the two sides finalised a draft agreement on US troop withdrawal and assurances that Afghan soil would not be used by any terror group.

india Updated: Apr 06, 2019 00:16 IST
Rezaul Laskar
Rezaul Laskar
New Delhi
Pak foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (left) meets US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad on Friday
Pak foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (left) meets US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad on Friday(Pak Foreign Office via AP)
         

The US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has again skipped India during a multi-nation tour to brief leaders about his talks with the Taliban, creating an impression in some quarters that he is keeping New Delhi out of the loop.

Khalilzad recently held a marathon round of talks with the Taliban leadership in Qatar, during which the two sides finalised a draft agreement on US troop withdrawal and assurances that Afghan soil would not be used by any terror group.

On Friday, Khalilzad met Pakistan foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua and foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

During his tour, from March 25 to April 10, Khalilzad is travelling to Afghanistan, the UK, Belgium, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan and Qatar. The US state department said this is “part of the overall effort to facilitate a peace process that brings all Afghan parties together in inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations”.

During his last multi-nation tour in February, Khalilzad visited Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He visited India for two days in January and met external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. There has been no official response from New Delhi to Khalilzad’s recent tours.

However, India has conveyed to the US that any possible deal with the Taliban should not alter the fundamental structure of the Afghan Constitution or erode the gains made over the past 17 years, especially in terms of the country’s democratic set-up and rights of groups such as women and minorities, people familiar with developments said.

In some quarters of New Delhi and Kabul, Khalilzad is perceived to be aligning himself closely with Pakistan on the talks with the Taliban. During stopovers on his recent tours, he has also held meetings with his counterparts from China and Russia.

Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, who is a distinguished fellow in the foreign policy studies programme at Gateway House, said the US appeared to be still defining its policy for Afghanistan. “The US wants a withdrawal and will get it too, but to what extent such a withdrawal promotes their interests remains to be seen. The US will be accountable to history,” he said.

The response in India to the latest developments in the talks between the US and the Taliban has ranged between “utter despair and quiet confidence, because of the belief in New Delhi that things can’t all go wrong”, Bhatia said. “But we have to be humble at this stage when there is a lot of churning going on – especially because we have some soft power in Afghanistan but we lack hard power assets,” he added.

“Pakistan stands to make short-term gains but the faultlines in Afghanistan are bound to re-emerge because the Afghans will want a sovereign, independent nation and not be a colony.”

First Published: Apr 06, 2019 00:16 IST

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