NEW DELHI: Army Chief General Bipin Rawat on Thursday declared that India may be left out if it does not join the talks with the Taliban over the Afghanistan peace process.
“Does India have an interest in Afghanistan? If the answer is yes then you cannot be out of the bandwagon. Because If you are out of the bandwagon then you are out,” he said at his annual conference before Army Day.
At the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi a day earlier, General Rawat had said any talks with the Taliban must be held without preconditions, sparking protests from several Kashmiri leaders who said this exposed the hypocrisy of the government which refuses to talk with Kashmiri separatists.
While several nations, including the US, Russia, Iran and Pakistan have been talking with the Taliban in the belief that no peace can be achieved in the country without their involvement, New Delhi, which believes the Taliban is a proxy front for Pakistan’s ISI, has traditionally shunned any overt dialogue with the radical Sunni outfit. However, it did send two “non-official” representatives to participate in talks initiated by Moscow in November last year, where the Taliban and unofficial Afghan representatives were present.
“The Army Chief is not qualified to comment on the subject,” said Rana Banerji, a retired intelligence official who specializes on the region. Vehemently rejecting any talks with the Taliban "at the moment,", he said this must be discussed first “with our friends in Afghanistan, and even if we do talk, it should not be made part of the public discourse.”
Alok Bansal, director of India Foundation and Executive Director of South Asian Institute for Strategic Affairs, concurs. “ In fact, the Americans talking to the Taliban is a big disaster for two reasons. First, in a tribal society, a person’s stature is decided on who he is talking to. So if the US is talking to Taliban, it actually marginalizes Ashraf Ghani and his government,” he said.
“Second, any who believes the Taliban can be brought to a negotiated settlement is living in a fool's paradise. Because the Al Qaeda will never allow it. While the Taliban needs Al Qaeda, the Al Qaeda also needs the Taliban. When the Al Qaeda talks of waging jihad, it never says it is doing so under Zawahiri or Osama Bin Laden. It is always under the Amirul Momineen, who is the leader of the Taliban..earlier Mullah Omar, and now Hibatullah Akhundzada. The Taliban is committed to the creation of an Islamic Emirate, so there can never be a negotiated settlement with them."