Army chief Bipin Rawat. Photo: PTI
New Delhi: Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat Thursday courted controversy by saying that India had interests in Afghanistan and could not afford to not engage with the Taliban and also saying that army would not tolerate homosexuality within its ranks.
Rawat’s comments came at a press conference, ahead of the 71st Raising Day of the Indian Army on 15 January, in which he also spoke about the security situation in Kashmir, ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) and the management of the borders along Pakistan and China.
“Many are engaging with Taliban for having peace. We should engage unconditionally to the extent of having a sense as to what is happening. India has contributed immensely to peace in Afghanistan and plans to do so,” Rawat was quoted as saying by the army’s official Twitter handle @adgpi.
“We have interests in Afghanistan. We can’t be out of the bandwagon,” he said, according to the Press Trust of India.
Separately, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi that the Taliban “belong” to Afghanistan and that their involvement was crucial for the success of peace talks.
Rawat’s remarks on the Taliban underlined those made by him on Wednesday at the Raisina Dialogue, an annual strategic policy dialogue forum organized by the Observer Research Foundation think tank and backed by the Indian foreign ministry.
“There should be talks with the Taliban, so long as they do not come with any preconditions, so long as they are looking at lasting peace in Afghanistan and bringing about stability in that country. It is in our interest, in the region’s interest, and in Pakistan’s interest,” he had said on Wednesday.
Government officials familiar with the matter said the army chief’s comments do not reflect a change of policy in New Delhi. India has consistently refused to engage with the Taliban as the group derives support from Pakistan’s military, which is seen as inimical to India. “Defence and strategic partners of Afghanistan do not engage in bandwagoning,” said a person familiar with the developments in New Delhi. “They are expected to have an independent policy aligned with the Afghan government,” the person said.
Meanwhile, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj met visiting US special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in New Delhi on Thursday to discuss the peace process in Afghanistan and efforts to bring the Taliban to the talks table.
India has been concerned about recent reports that the US plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, despite US President Donald Trump stating in August 2017 that American troops would stay on till the situation in Afghanistan stabilizes. New Delhi’s view is that any peace process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. This essentially means that the peace process should be acceptable to the Kabul government and not foisted on it by other countries. New Delhi had sent two former Indian foreign ministry officials to a regional peace initiative in Moscow in November where the Taliban were also present but so far has not directly engaged with the group.
On a question on decriminalization of gay sex, Rawat said the army would not tolerate homosexuality within its ranks. “We will not allow this to happen in the army,” he said. When asked about the court ruling on adultery, Rawat said the army was a conservative institution.
On the situation along India’s borders with Pakistan and China, Rawat said the army had managed it well.
On ceasefire violations by Pakistan, Rawat said the Indian Army would engage any suspicious movements by individuals or groups near the LoC. “It is very difficult to differentiate between a civilian and a terrorist,” Rawat said. As such, the Indian Army would take on any group or individual who was moving about suspiciously near the border especially at night, he said. The Pakistani border guards and troops generally resort to firing to provide cover to terrorists trying to cross into India or trying to retreat, Rawat said. This comment comes against the backdrop of Pakistan violating the ceasefire 1,432 times in 2018, according to the centre.
On engaging the separatist Hurriyat Conference in a dialogue, the army chief said: “Our position is very clear that shun the gun and stop taking support from the western neighbour. Talks can happen only if they shun violence.”
Shaswati Das contributed to this story.