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India bats for Afghanistan-led peace talks

Reiterating the need for an Afghan-led and owned peace process, India said it was up to Afghanistan to decide who to engage in direct talks

New Delhi: India has called for Afghanistan to be given the right to decide who it wants to engage in peace talks, amid discord among key members of a regional peace initiative on the role of Taliban rebels.

India’s position was put forward at a six-country meet hosted by Russia on Wednesday in Moscow. The other countries that attended were Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Iran.

“We stressed that it is essential to end all forms of terrorism and extremism that beset Afghanistan and our region, and to ensure denial of territory or any other support, safe havens or sanctuaries to any terrorist group or individual in countries of our region,” foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup told reporters on Thursday.

Reiterating the need for an Afghan-led and owned peace process, India said it was up to Afghanistan to decide who to engage in direct talks. “These efforts can only be facilitated by friends and well-wishers of Afghanistan,” Swarup added. India’s view is that the Taliban is supported by Pakistan.

Russia is of the view that the Taliban is a legitimate stakeholder in any future Afghanistan power structure and should be pushed for talks with the Ashraf Ghani government. China and Iran too concur that the Taliban is a stakeholder in Afghanistan—a view Pakistan backs.

A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said participating countries agreed to “step up efforts to promote the intra-Afghan peace process while maintaining the leading role of Kabul and observing the previously agreed upon principles of integrating the armed opposition into peaceful coexistence.”

The “armed opposition” is a reference to the Taliban.

Officially, Pakistan denies supporting the Taliban, saying it too is a victim of terrorism and that fighters of the Tehrik-i-Taliban, one of the main groups carrying out attacks inside Pakistan, were operating from Afghanistan.

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