India, a close defense and development partner of Afghanistan’s government, has called for an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled” peace process. With the withdrawal of U.S and NATO troops approaching, and the Taliban´s increasingly wider foothold on large swaths of the insurgency-ravaged country, the stakes are high for both India and China.
India on Thursday lashed out at the Taliban while referring to the recently concluded discussions between the group's political leadership and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin.
“I would like to reiterate that India, and the world, wish to see an independent, sovereign, democratic and stable Afghanistan, at peace with itself and neighbors,” Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at a weekly briefing when asked to comment on the discussions.
“Unilateral imposition of will by any party will not be democratic, cannot lead to stability, and cannot provide legitimacy. Gains over the last two decades should be preserved”, remarked the Indian official.
The comments follow a nine-member Taliban delegation´s meeting with the Chinese foreign minister and Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao on 28 July. The Taliban delegation was led by the head of the political committee, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
China swiftly following up proposal to facilitate talks between Afghan govt & Taliban, nudging both sides. This must be first time Taliban leaders are received at such high diplomatic level, recognising the group as political entity. Comes soon after China-Pak Strategic Dialogue. https://t.co/YRq2kRUQrU— M. K. Bhadrakumar (@BhadraPunchline) July 28, 2021
During the discussions, Wang recognized the Taliban as an "important military and political force" in Afghanistan. Wang further stated that he expected the Islamist insurgent group to play a significant role in Afghanistan's peace process.
"As a military and political force to be reckoned with in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban has in recent years maintained dialogue and contact with the Afghan government and the international community," FM spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at the daily briefing on 29 July.
"We hope the Afghan Taliban will put the interests of the country and nation first, hold high the banner of peace talks, set the goal of peace, build a positive image, follow an inclusive policy, return to the political mainstream in moderate ways, and play an important role in the peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process," the Chinese official further stated.
The Taliban, for its part, has assured China that it won't let terrorist groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) use Afghanistan's territory for actions against Beijing. The ETIM is a United Nations (UN)-proscribed terror outfit advocating for a separate Uyghur homeland.
The meeting between the Taliban and Beijing drew a reaction from the Afghan government too, which said in a press release on 28 July that the "purpose" of the meeting was to convey Beijing's concerns about the presence of foreign terrorists in Afghanistan.
"Given the common security threats and mutual political and economic interests, and in light of recent talks between the Presidents and Foreign Ministers of the two countries, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan expects the Chinese government to play its valuable role in strengthening regional consensus and exerting international pressure on the Taliban to end violence, establish a ceasefire, ensure peace and end the presence of foreign terrorists in Afghanistan," Kabul said in its official statement.
Meanwhile, U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken has welcomed the discussions between the Taliban and China, describing the development as a "positive thing."
"Everyone has an interest in a peaceful resolution of the conflict and some kind of government that emerges that's truly representative and inclusive. And so if China is acting on those interests, if other countries are acting on those interests, that's a positive thing", Blinken remarked during an interview with an Indian news channel during his visit to Delhi on 28 July.
Blinken also reckoned that no power, be it the U.S., China, Russia, India, or Central Asian countries, favored Afghanistan's "military takeover" by the Taliban.
As of July, the Taliban was in control of 212 of Afghanistan's 426 districts, with the Afghan government in charge of 111 districts. The Islamist insurgents also claim to control around 90 percent of Afghanistan's border crossings, including those that lead to Tajikistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.