US peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, during visit to Delhi on Thursday said that India should discuss its concerns about terrorism directly with the Taliban, The Hindu reported on Friday.
Khalilzad said that he had discussed how India could play a “more active role” in the Afghan reconciliation process, the report said.
“India is an important force in Afghanistan, and it would be appropriate for that [India-Taliban] engagement to take place,” Khalilzad told The Hindu in an exclusive interview.
He also said India had a “significant role” in Afghanistan’s development, but, paradoxically, it doesn’t play a role in the international peace efforts.
“India and Afghanistan have historic ties, and I believe that dialogue between India and the Taliban is important, and it would be important that issues of concern like this [terrorism] are raised directly,” he added.
This is the first time the US has publicly suggested an engagement between India and the Taliban, according to The Hindu, which said that India still considers the Taliban a terror group allied to Pakistan, and has thus far distanced itself from any talks.
On Thursday, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had raised concerns over increasing violence in Afghanistan and the need to protect minorities including Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.
Khalilzad travelled to Doha, Delhi and Islamabad in this latest trip in an effort to restart the peace process based on the US-Taliban agreement that was signed on February.
Khalilzad has called for a reduction in violence and implementation of a nationwide ceasefire on his most recent trip to gather support to push the stalled Afghan peace process forward.
On Friday Khalilzad met with Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Pakistan's Army Staff, and discussed "issues of mutual interest and overall regional security situation including Afghan reconciliation process," according to Pakistan's armed forces spokesman.
According to the Pakistan statement, Bajwa reiterated that "our (Pakistan's) support towards peace process is a manifestation of our goodwill towards the cause," the spokesman said.
Khalilzad, who is on a tour to the region as part of Washington’s diplomatic efforts for peace in Afghanistan, earlier on Wednesday met Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy leader of Taliban, in Doha, where they discussed accelerating the release of prisoners between the Taliban and the Afghan government to help cement concrete steps for the start of intra-Afghan talks.
“Lengthy meeting overnight with Mullah Baradar and his team in Doha. We sought progress on a range of topics: a reduction in violence, humanitarian ceasefire as demanded by the international community to allow for better cooperation on managing COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan, acceleration of prisoner releases by both sides, actions necessary to secure the freedom of US citizen Mark Frerichs, regional and international support for the peace process, and movement to intra-Afghan negotiations ASAP," Khalilzad tweeted, adding: "Will meet again after my trip to India and Pakistan."
“The Afghans expect that the prisoner release process will lead to an environment of trust, the start of a ceasefire, and intra-Afghan talks,” said Najia Anwari, a spokeswoman for the State Ministry on Peace Affairs.
The Afghan government released about 31 Taliban prisoners on Wednesday from Puli-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, bringing the number of released Taliban prisoners to 933, according to the National Security Council’s office.
The Taliban also released a new batch of Afghan government prisoners in western Afghanistan.
The US-Taliban deal called for the Taliban to release up to 1,000 government prisoners, and for the Afghan government to free up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners before peace talks that were to begin on March 10.
The Afghan government made an earlier pledge to release a total of 5,000 Taliban prisoners but only after the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations, and if violence was reduced in a way that leads to a countrywide ceasefire.