Important for India to be ‘close’ to Taliban, says U.S.

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Hinting that that U.S. expects to see the Taliban inside the Afghanistan “government structure”, a senior U.S. official suggested that India should consider talks with the group as a part of India’s traditional ties with Kabul.

“We defer to India as to whether it wants to engage directly with the Taliban, but in a situation where we are seeking to have a political settlement to have the Taliban as part of that political government structure, that government’s relationship with India should be close,” said the outgoing U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells.

 

“A healthy Afghanistan is going to need to have a healthy relationship with India,” Ms. Wells added, replying to a question from The Hindu during a briefing.

Defending the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February, Ms. Wells, who has worked closely with U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, said that the agreement was in line with U.S. President Donald Trump’s “South Asia Strategy” announced in 2017, which included four core principles: the push for a solution in Afghanistan “via a political dialogue and not on the battlefield”, troops pullout decided by the situation on the ground, the condition that Pakistan would take action against militant groups on its soil, and India would remain an “important” player on development assistance.

She also said the U.S. had built “solid cooperation” with Pakistan on bringing the Taliban to the table for talks, and on action against terror groups and leaders like Lashar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed.

When asked about specific commitments from the Taliban to ensure that terror groups that target India, like the Lashkar e Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, Ms. Wells said she wouldn’t comment on what the U.S.-Taliban deal said, but added the U.S.’s own commitment was clear.

“The U.S. commitment is to ensure Afghanistan can never again serve as a base for external terrorism,” Ms. Wells added, praising India for its role in the development of Afghanistan and $2 billion assistance pledged that “has supported development in nearly every province in Afghanistan, part of the support India has traditionally provided”.

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