Taliban talks were focus of India-US dialogue

New Delhi, June 27 (IANS) The proposed talks in Qatar between the United States and the Taliban were the focus of discussions here between US Special Representative for Af-Pak James Dobbins and Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and Special Envoy S.K. Lambah, during which the 2014 Afghan presidential elections were also taken up.

Dobbins met Mathai and Lambah separately on Wednesday.

The discussions “focused on the current state of play in US-Afghan relations and attempts to work towards reconciliation. The officials also discussed the importance of continued Indo-US consultations on Afghanistan, and preparations for India-Afghanistan-US trilateral,” said official sources.

Dobbins said at a press conference here Thursday that 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.”

Dobbins, 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”. Dobbins described Lambah as an “old friend” with whom he had collaborated closely on Afghanistan 10 years ago too.

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

Dobbins 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 that while Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s concerns over the Taliban office in Qatar 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 earlier this week, had said that the talks would be “Afghan-led” and that India’s concerns will not be overlooked.

Dobbins 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.

Dobbins said the Afghan armed forces were taking the “lead in combat operations, relying on their own resources and performing well”. To a question on the Taliban continuing with its bombing attacks, he said he did not think that holding talks would lead to an immediate cessation of violence. “The Taliban will continue to put pressure.”

“I don’t think that beginning negotiations will end the war, but I do hope the negotiations will encourage them to end the war,” he said.

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

He also said that “any improvement in India-Pakistan relations will automatically improve the Afghan situation”.

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