International

India alarmed at Russia, China, Pakistan talks on Afghan Taliban

India is alarmed at Russia, China, Pakistan talks on restoring peace in the war-torn Afghanistan.

The Times of India said as Russia, China and Pakistan work towards building a new axis in Afghanistan to accommodate Taliban as a tool against the Islamic State terror group, it could have unforeseen consequences for the Russia-India relationship.

The paper pointed out that India is holding on to the "red lines" for integration of Taliban into the Afghan government but that seems to be getting diluted by the new axis, which is less Afghan-led and more Pak-led, putting Pakistan once again in the driver's seat on Afghanistan's future.

Iran, which has been doing its own outreach to Taliban, is equally apprehensive of the fallout of IS cadres relocating to Afghanistan as they get driven out of Syria and Iraq, the Times of India said adding: "This is essentially a return to the good-Taliban, bad-Taliban argument, as everybody wants to do a peace settlement in Afghanistan."

Russia, China and Pakistan issued a joint statement after the third round of trilateral consultations on regional issues between officials from Russia, China and Pakistan held in Moscow on Tuesday. "(The three countries) expressed particular concern about the rising activity in the country of extremist groups, including the Afghan branch of IS," Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters after the meeting.

The three countries reiterated their support for reconciliation process in Afghanistan. “The participants agreed to continue their efforts towards further facilitating the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan according to the known principles of reintegration of the armed opposition into peaceful life,” the joint statement said.

“The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China as the UN Security Council permanent members confirmed their flexible approach to delisting Afghan individuals from the UN sanctions lists as their contribution to the efforts aimed at launching peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban,” the statement further noted.

The position on delisting looked to be a snub for Kabul that had last month asked the United Nations to add Taliban’s new leader, Maulvi Haibatullah, to its sanctions list.

Representatives from the three countries also agreed to invite the Afghan government to such talks in the future, the Russian foreign ministry said.

The United States, which still has nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan more than 15 years after the Taliban were toppled by US-backed Afghan forces, was not invited to the Moscow talks.

The gathering is likely to deepen worries in Washington that it is being sidelined in negotiations over Afghanistan's future, Reuters said adding: Officials in Kabul and Washington have said that Russia is deepening its ties with Taliban militants fighting the government, though Moscow has denied providing aid to the insurgents.

Afghanistan has been angered by efforts by the three countries to work towards some sort of accommodation with the Taliban, the Hindustan Times reported Thursday.

Afghanistan was especially angered as it was excluded from the third round of consultations between Russia, China and Pakistan, and reports the troika would be expanded to include Iran.

The Afghanistan government said on Thursday that the Afghan people alone can decide on removing Taliban leaders from UN sanctions lists, rejecting a call by China, Russia and Pakistan to delist some militants to foster a peace dialogue.

Following a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday, the three countries called for “flexible approaches” on sanctioned persons to promote a “dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban”.

“The delisting of Taliban leaders is the right of only the Afghan people. The Afghan people can and will decide on this when we have security,” Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Hindustan Times.

Afghanistan has also not taken kindly to the suggestion from China, Russia and Pakistan that the Taliban should be accommodated to bolster the fight against the Islamic State, which has established a presence in eastern Nangarhar province and carried out several attacks.

The Hindustan Times said Kabul’s stance could provide some comfort to New Delhi, which has been loath to engage the Taliban and perceives the group with ties to the Pakistani security establishment as the biggest threat in Afghanistan. India is also wary of any peace process driven by Pakistan.

Russia brokers nationwide ceasefire in Syria

The tripartite talks on Afghanistan followed a nationwide ceasefire in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the ceasefire between Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government starting at midnight on Thursday.

Putin'sstatement came after Moscow, Iran and Turkey said they were ready to broker a peace deal in the nearly six-year-old Syrian war. The Syrian army announced a nationwide halt to fighting but said Islamic State and ex-Nusra Front militants and all groups linked to them would be excluded from the deal.

Putin said Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government had signed a number of documents including the ceasefire. Turkey and Russia will oversee the implementation of the ceasefire deal, with the Turkish foreign ministry also confirming that Ankara and Moscow would act as the “guarantors” of the ceasefire.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Lavrov said seven opposition groups had signed the ceasefire deal, with these groups holding command over more than 60,000 opposition fighters. According to the terms of the deal, all those groups that have not signed the ceasefire deal, he said, will be deemed as “terrorist groups”.

Reuters said the United States has been sidelined in recent negotiations and is not due to attend the next round of peace talks in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, a key Russian ally.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States could join the peace process once President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011(@) gmail.com

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