Taliban talks figured prominently in US-India dialogue

New Delhi, June 27 (IANS) The US’ proposed talks with the Taliban in Qatar figured prominently in discussions between US Special Representative for Af-Pak James Dobbin and Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and Special Envoy S.K. Lambah on Wednesday, during which the 2014 Afghan presidential elections were also discussed.

The Indian side had “lots of questions on the opening of the Taliban office” in Qatar. “They questioned me closely on what the prospects were for peace, on what the exact stand was.. but I did not sense they were opposed to it or the talks was something one should stay away from,” said Dobbin at a press briefing here Thursday.

Dobbin, who arrived in India Wednesday from Islamabad, said he had come here “because India has an important stake and influence in Afghanistan.. and we understand India’s view and we hope India understands our views, and we collaborate as closely as possible on this,” said Dobbin, adding that Lambah was an “old friend” with whom he had collaborated closely on Afghanistan 10 years ago too.

While the talks with the Indian officials focused on Afghanistan, Pakistan too came up for discussions, he said.

Dobbin said the US is not sure if the talks with the Taliban will take off at all. “Nobody knows how it will progress, or we can say with certainty that the process will start.. For us we are going into it with open eyes,” he added.

He said while Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s concerns had been addressed and he has agreed to participate in the talks, they are “still waiting to hear from the Taliban” on when to hold the talks. India had voiced concern over the US holding talks with the Taliban and said it should be an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was here on an official visit this week, had said that the talks would be “Afghan-led” and that India’s concerns will not be overlooked.

Dobbin also reiterated what Kerry had said that there is no prospect of improvement of relations with the Taliban unless the issue of terrorism is directly addressed. The US has set pre-conditions for beginning talks – that the insurgent group should distance itself from international terrorism, especially the Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan constitution.

Dobbin, who held talks with new Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday, said he “sensed that important relations with India is high on Sharif’s list of priorities’.

“He is facing overwhelming problems, most important is economic pressures and significant domestic violenceÂ… On the external front, sensed that improving relations with India is his top priority,” said the US official.

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