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Taliban ‘reasonable’ to our concerns: India

India and the US are carefully watching Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan in light of Islamabad’s role in backing the Taliban, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said as he wound up a three-day visit to Washington during which the situation in the war-torn country was a key part of discussions.

Shringla also told reporters in Washington on Friday that India has had a “limited” engagement with the Taliban, during which the group indicated it would be “reasonable in the way they handle things”.

His remarks came against the backdrop of the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are set to form government after sweeping to power in Kabul on August 15. Shringla spoke hours before Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, became the first senior Pakistani leader to fly into Kabul for talks with the Taliban.

Shringla noted Pakistan has extended backing to the Taliban, and said India and the US will assess Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan with a “fine-tooth comb”.

“They (US) will obviously see how different players get engaged in the situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan is a neighbour of Afghanistan. They have supported and nurtured the Taliban. There are various elements there that Pakistan supported, so its role has to be seen in that context,” he said.

India is closely engaged with the US on developments in Afghanistan, and both sides have adopted a wait and watch policy towards the Taliban and are calibrating their actions in response to the evolving situation, he added.

Shringla contended that India’s concerns related to Afghanistan, especially the use of Afghan soil for terrorism, had been addressed in a UN resolution adopted last month. This resolution, he said, mentioned UN-designated terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

“So we do have concerns about the free ingress that these two terrorist groups have had in Afghanistan, their role and we will watch that carefully,” he said.

Shringla acknowledged that India currently has no immediate substantial engagement with Afghanistan, and described New Delhi’s contacts with the Taliban as limited.

“Our engagement with them (Taliban) has been limited. It’s not that we have a robust conversation. But from whatever conversations we’ve had so far, the Taliban seem to indicate they will be reasonable in the way they handle things,” he said.

“I don’t see members of the international community being passive over the situation in Afghanistan. We are not there on the ground, [we] have no assets there. It’s not like we are not doing anything, we are in touch with every country that has an interest in Afghanistan,” he added.

After months of informal contacts with the group, India’s ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, held talks with senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai on Tuesday, the first officially acknowledged contact between the two sides. During the meeting held at the Taliban’s request, the India side raised its concerns about Afghan soil being used for anti-India activities and terror.

Shringla met US secretary of state Antony Blinken and other senior American officials during his visit, and the situation in Afghanistan figured prominently in discussions.

The ISI chief arrived in Kabul with a high-level delegation for talks with the top Taliban leadership on security and other issues. Unnamed Pakistani military officials told the media in Islamabad on Thursday that the ISI chief would work with the Taliban to help reorganise the Afghan Army.

Unlike a low-key visit to Kabul by the CIA chief, Lt Gen Hameed was spotted in the lobby of a hotel along with the Pakistani ambassador and even spoke to Pakistani journalists.

The ISI chief’s visit coincided with reports of divisions within the Taliban over government formation and the allocation of powers. The reports said there were differences between the camp of senior leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and the Haqqani Network, which has long-standing and close ties with Pakistan’s military establishment.

There were also reports of differences between the leaders from the political office in Doha, such as Baradar, and the commanders on the ground, including Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, over the allocation of powers in the new set-up.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the ISI is working to ensure security-related departments, such as intelligence, defence and interior, are retained by the Haqqani Network. The ISI chief’s visit to Kabul is being seen in the context of these differences and efforts to protect the interests of the Haqqani Network, the people said.

Desk Team