Thursday, 10 January 2019

Army chief wants unconditional talks with Taliban


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Jan 19

Contradicting the steadfast stand of the Indian government, army chief General Bipin Rawat today publicly backed a dialogue with the Taliban that he said should be held “without pre-conditions.”

“There should be talks with the Taliban, so long as they do not come with any preconditions; so long as they are looking at lasting peace in Afghanistan; and bringing about stability in that country. It is in our interest, in the region’s interest and in Pakistan’s interest,” stated Rawat.

The army chief was participating in a discussion on terrorism at the on-going Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, which brings together exports and policymakers from around the world.

New Delhi has backed the official “peace and reconciliation process” in Afghanistan, which involves talks with the Taliban to bring it into the Afghan political mainstream. However, India’s backing comes with the strict proviso that the process should be within the framework of Afghanistan’s constitution and should be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.”

Most recently, in November, Deputy National Security Advisor Pankaj Saran reiterated this position. Saran was clarifying that India’s stance had in no way been diluted by the presence of two retired Indian ambassadors – TCA Raghavan and Amar Sinha – at a meeting in Moscow, that also had Taliban representatives present.

The government says the “Moscow format” meeting – which brought together Taliban representatives with delegates from several countries, including India, Pakistan, Iran and China – was at an “unofficial level”.

Rawat also offered Pakistan an unusual degree of understanding of its compulsions in Afghanistan, stating: “Pakistan has always treated Afghanistan as its backyard and been concerned about it. As a military leader, I would say ‘Why not? They have to be concerned about their backyard.’ They would always want a situation in Afghanistan that is more favourable to them. Even if it implies speaking to the devil, they will do it.”

Stating that terrorism is “a low visibility, high gain option” that is becoming a form of warfare for weaker states, Rawat said: “It will continue spreading into nations wherever you have the World Wide Web (internet). Radicalization is happening through the media. So long as the media keeps giving coverage and notice (visibility) to terrorist activities, it is there to stay.”

The response from Kashmiri leaders was not long in coming.

Former J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, tweeted: "If the Army Chief can advocate for talks with Taliban then why different standards when it comes to our own people? Accept peace offer from Pakistan, initiate dialogue with Hurriyat and other stakeholders put an end to the vicious cycle of violence in J&K."

Former J&K chief minister, Omar Abdullah, tweeted: "We bat for talks with taliban, autonomy for Tibet & Tamil areas of Sri Lanka yet we are unwilling to look at engagement or political initiatives in J&K. Why is our policy all about 'do as we say, don’t do as we do'? Engagement for Taliban, Operation All-Out for Kashmir.

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