Afghanistan has to be free from malign influences: India on Pakistan

Describing the atrocities being committed by the Taliban in their advance across Afghanistan as “deeply troubling”, visiting US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken said Wednesday that this does not speak well of Taliban “intentions” and “taking over power by force” cannot be a path to international recognition.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who was listening when Blinken made these remarks, spelt out India’s redlines: that the outcome in Afghanistan should not be “decided by force on the battlefield”; that there is “broad and deep consensus” on a negotiation that leads to peace and cessation of violence; and that there should be a political settlement.

Sources said there was more common ground in this discussion on Afghanistan than before.

Jaishankar said the independence and sovereignty of Afghanistan can only be ensured “if it is free from malign influences” — a reference to Pakistan’s involvement.

“Regarding Afghanistan, it is essential that peace negotiations are taken seriously by all parties. The world wishes to see an independent, sovereign, democratic and stable Afghanistan at peace with itself and with its neighbours but its independence and sovereignty will only be ensured if it is free from malign influences. Similarly, unilateral imposition of will by any party will obviously not be democratic and can never lead to stability nor indeed can such efforts ever acquire legitimacy,” he said.

“The gains to Afghan civil society especially on the rights of women, minorities and on social freedoms over the last two decades are self-evident; we must collectively work to preserve them. Afghanistan must neither be home to terrorism nor resource of refugees,” he said.

Echoing Jaishankar, Blinken said: “An Afghanistan that does not respect the rights of its people, an Afghanistan that commits atrocities against its own people, would become a pariah state… There’s only one path, and that’s at the negotiating table to resolve the conflict peacefully.”

Underlining that their meeting was taking place at an “important juncture when key global and regional challenges need to be effectively addressed”, Jaishankar made India’s discomfiture with the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan amply clear.

“It is natural, inevitable, that if the United States, which for the last 20 years, had a robust military presence in Afghanistan withdraws that presence, there will be consequences. Now, the issue is not whether that’s good or bad. What is done is done. It is a policy taken and, I think, in diplomacy you deal with what you have,” he said.

“Both Secretary and I made it very clear that we don’t think the outcome should be decided by force on the battlefield. We think the peace negotiations should be a negotiation and should lead to peace. It should see cessation of violence, there should be a political settlement,” he said.

“Now, I grant you, not everybody who agrees, does what they say they will do. I noted the exception that you have pointed out. But I think that is a reality which is not new. That is a reality over the last 20 years,” Jaishankar said, responding to a question on whether Pakistan is doing enough.

Blinken agreed: “We are both committed to the proposition that there is no military solution to the conflict that afflicts Afghanistan. There has to be a peaceful resolution which requires the Taliban and the Afghan government to come to the table, and we both agree, I think strongly, that any future government in Afghanistan has to be inclusive and fully representative of the Afghan people.”

In this context, he said both India and the US are “in alignment”. He said although the US is withdrawing its troops, it remains “very much engaged” on economic, development and military assistance to the Afghan national security forces.

Blinken also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NSA Ajit Doval during the day.

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