New Delhi on Saturday made it clear that any new dispensation that emerges from the intra-Afghan dialogue process must ensure that the soil of Afghanistan is never used for anti-India activities.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar, who joined the inaugural session of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, Qatar, via video conference, reiterated India’s support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process and sought an immediate ceasefire in the war-torn country.
Teams comprising representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban will come face-to-face for the first time on Monday for peace talks in Qatar’s capital for a negotiated settlement after nearly two decades of war. The talks were to have begun in March but were delayed by differences over the release of prisoners.
Jaishankar, who joined the event at the invitation of Qatar’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, said: “Our friendship with Afghanistan is strong and unshaken, we have always been good neighbours and will always be so. Our expectation is that the soil of Afghanistan should never be used for any anti-India activities.”
The peace process, he said, has to address the violence in Afghanistan and the neighbourhood and also protect the interests of minorities and women.
Jaishankar said, “It [the peace process] has to respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan. It should promote the values of human rights and democracy that can foster development. The interests of the minorities, women and vulnerable must be ensured.
“And most important, the issue of violence across the country and its neighbourhood has to be effectively addressed. The rising levels of violence cannot be allowed to continue and, like others, we support an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire.”
India, which is the region’s largest provider of development aid to Afghanistan, has watched a recent spike in violence and attacks on minorities such as Sikhs with growing concern. Since 2001, India has undertaken projects worth $3 billion in Afghanistan, including $1 billion pledged in 2016 under the “new development partnership” scheme for a period of five years.
Jaishankar referred to India’s role in development aid and talked about the infrastructure created by the Indian partnership that spreads across all 34 provinces, “be it the Parliament house for the nation, transmission lines and hospitals in Kabul, the friendship dam in Herat, the Afghanistan national agricultural science and technology university in Kandahar”.
“Equally impactful have been capacity building projects, scholarships and training of youth,” he said, adding that India has supplied more than a million tonnes of food grains in recent years. To address the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, India provided more than 15 tonnes of life-saving drugs and medical equipment and facilitated the travel of Afghan citizens to India for medical treatment.
He added, “These are but examples of our deep commitment to the welfare, prosperity and stability of the Afghan nation, and today, these are the very objectives that bring us here to discuss peace and reconciliation. Our approach in that regard has always remained consistent – any peace process must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.”
A senior official delegation led by JP Singh, joint secretary (Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran) in the external affairs ministry, also participated in the inaugural ceremony in Doha.