India observes as US, Taliban set to sign deal

Ghughuti Bulletin

Qatar, today (February 29) the
Taliban and the US are expected to formally sign a peace deal after nearly 17 months of negotiations, clearing the path for Washington to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan and end the 18-year-long war there.

Why Doha?
The Taliban holds an office in the Qatari capital, and hence the negotiations between the group and US envoy
Zalmay Khalilzad were held there.

What is the deal?
The deal follows a week-long partial truce — a “reduction in violence” — agreed upon by the US and the Taliban. Though skirmishes were reported during the period, observers say the partial truce, by and large, was successful, with a near 80% reduction in violence. The deal calls for intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and the government of Kabul — a first — as well as other armed tribal groups within 10 to 15 days; reduction of US troops in Afghanistan from the current 13,000 to 8,600; and the release of many Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government. According to the Taliban, the US troops will also withdraw the remaining troops in 14 months, though Washington has not confirmed this.

While the full list of attendees has not been released, Pakistan (which holds influence over Taliban), India and Russia have been invited. Pakistan PM Imran Khan reached Doha on Thursday. Also attending as a witness is Australian professor Timothy Weeks, who was held captive for three years by the Taliban. In a symbolic act, Weeks was received by Anas Haqqani, one of the three militants Afghanistan released in November 2019, in exchange for Weeks’ freedom. Anas Haqqani is the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the powerful
Haqqani network.

India will also be present in the room, for the first time, albeit as an observer; New Delhi will be represented by its ambassador to Qatar, P Kumaran. India has negotiated with the Taliban once before, but in an entirely different context — the 1999 Indian Airlines hijacking. During the US-Taliban negotiations, New Delhi had insisted on an “Afghan-led” approach. India did send two former diplomats as “non-official representatives” in Moscow-led talks with the Taliban in November 2018, though.

India foreign secretary visits Afghan ahead of US-Taliban deal
Ahead of the US-Taliban peace deal, foreign secretary
Harsh Vardhan Shringla paid a day-long visit to Kabul on Friday to convey support to the Afghan people in their pursuit of sustainable peace, security and development, the MEA said.

Shringla held talks with acting foreign minister Haroon Chakhansuri and also NSA Hamdullah Mohib. He also called on Afghan President
Ashraf Ghani and handed over a congratulatory letter from PM Narendra Modi. Ghani appreciated India’s consistent support for democracy and constitutional order in Afghanistan.

Shringla also called on Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah. Shringla and Abdullah agreed that independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic and inclusive Afghanistan would promote peace and prosperity in the region, the MEA said.

The foreign secretary assessed developments in the country ahead of the peace deal which will be signed in Doha on Saturday and reiterated India’s commitment to stand with Afghanistan as the latter pursues reconciliation. Shringla also underscored the point that India was not in favour of any hurried troop withdrawal by the US and any peace process must also insist on eliminating terror sanctuaries. Mohib expressed appreciation for India’s training and medical facilities for Afghan national defence and security forces.

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