India welcomes Afghanistan’s decision to form 21-member team for talks with Taliban

Govt. calls Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s decision to form a team for dialogue a ‘positive step’

Welcoming Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s decision to form a team for intra-Afghan negotiations that will include the Taliban, the government said this is a “positive step” for the process of reconciliation in the country.

“We view the formation of the team as a positive step which would lead to a peaceful and stable future for Afghanistan free from the scourge of externally sponsored terrorism,” said a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs. The statement followed a conversation between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic.

MEA sources said there had also been a “discussion on the situation in Afghanistan”. They said Mr. Pompeo had condoled with Mr. Jaishankar on the death of an Indian national in the March 25 Kabul gurdwara attack, and both leaders resolved to keep exchanging notes on the developing situation.

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India’s statement also follows similar statements by the UN’s mission in Afghanistan UNAMA, other countries and even Mr. Ghani’s arch political rival former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, that have all hailed his announcement on March 27 of a 21-member negotiating team that included five women, to talk to the Taliban.

Although the Taliban rejected the announcement initially, claiming that it was not “inclusive enough”, the group sent a delegation to the Bagram Base outside Kabul on Tuesday to talk about the release of prisoners that had been decided in the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February.

Technical measures

“They (the Taliban delegation) will pursue the issue of release of the prisoners and will conduct the necessary technical measures,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, tweeted.

The issue of the prisoners release, including 5,000 held by the government and 1,000 by the Taliban, has been a sticking point in the deal, and has meant that intra-Afghan talks planned for March 12 had to be put off.

India sent its envoy to witness the signing of the U.S.-Taliban deal but has been cautious in welcoming its content and sceptical of dealing with the Taliban.

In particular, the government has been concerned about the growing number of attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan in addition to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. This week, the government decided to temporarily close its Consulates in Jalalabad and Herat. The diplomatic and security personnel from Jalalabad returned to India on Monday and were sent to quarantine, while those from Herat are expected to return on Thursday.

In its statement welcoming the announcement of the negotiating team, the government made a specific point about the security of minority Sikhs in the country, calling upon “all sections of the political spectrum to work together to meet the aspirations of all people of Afghanistan, including those from the minority community, for a prosperous and safe future.

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