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Looking at greater role for India in peace process, says Afghan foreign minister

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Afghanistan envisages a greater role for India in building regional and international consensus for the country’s fraught peace process, though a decision on engaging the Taliban is entirely up to New Delhi, Afghan foreign minister Haneef Atmar said on Tuesday.

Atmar is on a three-day visit to New Delhi, during which he held talks with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on security and economic cooperation and collaboration on efforts to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. The two sides also reviewed latest developments in the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

During an interaction with the media, Atmar responded to a question on the role envisaged by the Afghan government for India in the peace process by saying that New Delhi has legitimate interests in the peace and stability of the region.

“There are those out there that threaten not just Afghanistan but also India. So, India is a legitimate partner in peace-making and we are seeking a greater role for India in the process,” he said.

Lasting peace in Afghanistan depends on national, regional and international consensus, irrespective of the venue where talks are held by the Afghan government and the Taliban, he said. India has a key role in the process of “regional and international consensus-building”, Atmar said.

The Afghan foreign minister said he had not discussed India’s approach to the Taliban with his interlocutors.

“We leave it entirely to India to make that decision. We’ve asked for a greater role by India in regional and international consensus-building and the mature policies pursued by the Indian government will always place emphasis on any kind of contact with the Taliban on condition that would serve the peace process – that they will be part of a legitimate government of Afghanistan,” he said.

Both Afghanistan and India as well as the region have been affected by terrorism and the two countries have the responsibility to work together to defeat such threats, he said. The Afghan government is negotiating with the Taliban to make sure that the country doesn’t become a safe haven for international terrorists who could target India or the West, he said.

“The best strategy to secure the world is to separate the Taliban from the regional and international terrorists, [and] make peace on the condition that Afghanistan remains a sovereign, peaceful, unified and independent country,” he said.

Responding to a question about the targeting of Afghanistan’s Hindu and Sikh minorities by terrorists, he said: “The violence against Afghans didn’t spare our minorities either. So, it’s not a kind of persecution against [a] specific minority, it’s the general violence against the entire nation, in which this part of our population has been disproportionately affected.”

He added it was the responsibility of the Afghan government to provide protection and security to the Hindu and Sikh minorities.

Atmar also said the upcoming meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Turkey on April 1 will focus on three issues – a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, a political settlement consistent with a vision acceptable to the Afghan people, and regional and international guarantees for the settlement.

“And in that political settlement, the key will be both sides agreeing to accept the free will of the Afghan people through elections,” he added.

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