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Russia kept India out, US brings Delhi to talks table for Afghan peace plan

Under UN auspices, US, India, Russia, Pak, China, Iran must meet: Blinken to Ghani

Moscow is learnt to have suggested a plan that kept New Delhi out. (Photo: Twitter @PMO/ File)

India is finally at the table with five other countries to decide on the roadmap for peace in Afghanistan after six months of hectic behind-the-scenes diplomacy, sources told The Indian Express.

This mechanism has been suggested by Washington even as Moscow is learnt to have suggested a plan that kept New Delhi out.

Sources said that Russian interlocutors — amid growing proximity between Moscow and Beijing — suggested that Russia, China, US, Pakistan and Iran should be at the table.

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This, officials said, was apparently done at the behest of Pakistan which has never wanted India to be part of any roadmap for the region.

But New Delhi, for long on the sidelines, reached out to all key players in Afghanistan and other countries to make its way to the negotiating table. “Our interests need to be safeguarded…the next couple of months hold the key to progress,” a top official said.

By being part of the team, New Delhi hopes to have a role in setting the terms — especially concerning terrorism, violence, women’s rights and democratic values. India’s refrain has been that it wants an Afghan-led, Afghan-controlled and Afghan-owned process but ground realities have been such that other players have dictated terms.

According to a report first published by Tolo News, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent a letter last week to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah. In it, he proposed a regional conference under the UN auspices with foreign ministers of US, India, Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran to discuss a “unified approach” on Afghanistan.

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From the Indian side, External Affairs minister S Jaishankar could join in, sources said. This was part of the phone conversation between Jaishankar and US Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad Sunday.

New Delhi’s diplomatic spadework, sources said, included talks during the visits to India by former Afghan vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum in September last year; and by former Afghanistan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah (now chair of High Peace Council) and Afghan leader Ata Mohammad Noor in October.

This was followed by a quiet trip to Afghanistan by NSA Ajit Doval in January this year, when he met Kabul’s political leadership.

What also helped, sources said, is New Delhi’s engagement with Iran and its strategic investment in developing the Chabahar port as an access to Afghanistan.

The Biden administration’s proposal is also an acknowledgment of India’s pro-active role in the Afghan reconstruction process, an official said. The current outreach to Islamabad over the ceasefire along the LoC will also be a factor at the table.

Blinken’s letter called for holding talks between Afghan elders and the Taliban in Turkey in the coming weeks to hammer out a revised proposal for a 90-day reduction in violence. It also asked Khalilzad to share with both the Afghan government and the Taliban written proposals to help accelerate discussions.

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