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NEW DELHI: Any peace deal with the Taliban “will not and should not be detrimental” to the national security of any country including India, and it is for New Delhi to decide whether to engage with the militant outfit, top Afghan peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah said on Saturday.

In an interview to PTI, Abdullah, the chairman of the powerful High Council for National Reconciliation, also dispelled India’s apprehensions that a prominent role for the Taliban as part of a possible outcome to the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks could be detrimental to its strategic interests.

“It is not in our interests if any terrorist group has any foothold in Afghanistan. The agreement should be one which is acceptable to people of Afghanistan. It should be dignified, sustainable and durable,” Abdullah said.

The influential Afghan leader also said if a peace deal is struck with Taliban, then all other terror groups “freelancing in mountains and deserts of Afghanistan and launching attacks on us or any other nation” will have to cease their activities.

“Peaceful settlement will not be and should not be detrimental to any country’s national security including India. India is a country which has helped Afghanistan, contributed to Afghanistan. It is a friend of Afghanistan,” he said.

There have been apprehensions in New Delhi that Pakistan might leverage its influence over the Taliban to step up cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir if the militant group regains political prominance after a possible peace deal between it and the Afghan government.

Abdullah arrived here on Tuesday on a five-day visit as part of his efforts to build a regional consensus and support for the historic Afghan peace process. During his stay, he briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the peace talks, and held meetings with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Asked whether he got any indication of India’s willingness to engage with the Taliban, Abdullah said, “personally, I encourage engagement of India in the peace process. I did not make the suggestion. It is for India to decide how to engage with a group or not engage with a group. I did not pursue it,” he said.

The Taliban and the Afghan government are holding direct talks, aimed at ending decades of war that has killed tens of thousands of people and ravaged various parts of Afghanistan.

Abdullah said people of Afghanistan are yearning for peace and stability and they will not allow terrorism to sustain.

“If somebody thinks that because of other circumstances in Afghanistan including withdrawal of the US troops, there might be a situation where one side may take advantage of it, temporarily something might happen. But that will put the will of that side to a big test if that is the calculation. Because that is a miscalculation, that will be a miscalculation. That is not in our interest,” he said.

India has also been maintaining that care should be taken to ensure that any such process does not lead to any “ungoverned spaces” where terrorists and their proxies can relocate.

India has been calling upon all sections of the political spectrum in Afghanistan to work together to meet the aspirations of all people in that country including those from the minority community for a prosperous and safe future.

India has been a major stakeholder in the peace and stability of Afghanistan. It has already invested $2 billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country.

The Afghan leader said he is taking back the message of support and commitment to the peace process from India.

“Lot of time and energy was spent to find the best way forward,” he said on his talks with Indian leaders.

India has been supporting a national peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.

On September 12, an Indian delegation attended the inaugural ceremony of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha while S Jaishankar joined it through a video conference.

On whether there is a possibility of Beijing leaning on Islamabad to protect its security and connectivity interests in Afghanistan if the Taliban becomes a key influencer in Kabul, Abdullah said his country benefits from support from different countries including China which is an important country.

India has been keenly following the evolving political situation after the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February. The deal provided for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, effectively drawing curtains to Washington’s 18-year war with Taliban in the country.

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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India calls for complete ceasing of support to terrorist forces in Middle East

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UNITED NATIONS: India has called on all concerned parties to completely stop supporting terrorist forces, like the ISIS, while urging all stakeholders in the Middle East to work constructively for peace, stability and development.

India underscored that it has invested considerably in the peace and stability of the region by deploying its personnel as part of UN peacekeeping forces, through humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, capacity building, and will continue contributing towards peace-building in the Middle East.

“India calls on concerned parties to completely stop support to terrorist forces, like ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and others. India also urges all parties in the region to work constructively and in good faith to promote peace, stability and development for the benefit of all people in the Middle East,” India said in a written statement on Monday on the Security Council’s open debate on ‘The Situation in the Middle East’.

India said the truce between Israel and the Hamas has eased the humanitarian situation in Gaza and expressed hope that the temporary truce is converted into a permanent ceasefire, which can save precious human lives on both sides and create a conducive environment for talks.

“It is an unfortunate reality that the interlinked and mutually reinforcing challenges faced by the people of the Middle East have not yet been resolved. Political instability, long-festering conflicts, sectarian divides, issue of refugees and terrorism continue to plague the region. The COVID-pandemic has only exacerbated the threats posed by these challenges,” India said.

The statement made India’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador T S Tirumurti, will go as part of the official record of the Council.

India said it appreciates the agreement between Fatah and Hamas for holding Parliamentary and Presidential elections and also elections for the Palestinian National Council, which will help fulfill the democratic aspirations of the Palestinian people.

India also welcomed the agreements for normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. “India has always supported peace and stability in West Asia, which is our extended neighbourhood,” India said.

Further, India said the commencement of discussions on the disputed border between Israel and Lebanon is a significant development, expressing hope that this will provide an opportunity to resolve the longstanding issue between the two countries.

India highlighted that Palestinian aspirations for a sovereign and independent state are yet to be fulfilled and stressed that New Delhi has been unwavering in its commitment to the Palestinian cause and continues to remain supportive of a peaceful negotiated resolution of the Palestinian issue.

“India has supported the two-state solution as a just and acceptable solution to the conflict. Establishment of a Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel, within mutually agreed borders should be achieved through negotiations directly by the two parties,” India said adding that any stalemate could strengthen the hands of extremists and shut the door to cooperation thereby jeopardising the security, stability and prosperity of the people on both sides and the region.

Accordingly, India urged Israel and Palestine to resume direct negotiations at the earliest and called upon the international community to take concrete steps towards resuming and facilitating these negotiations quickly.

India noted that the decade-long armed conflict in Syria has claimed over 400,000 lives, displaced 6.2 million people internally and compelled another 6.3 million people to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.

“While we are heartened to see return of normalcy to major parts of the country, we are also reminded of the enormous resources that would be required to provide urgent humanitarian aid, rebuild infrastructure, enable return of the refugees and restore a normal and dignified life of all Syrians,” the statement said.

India said in the statement that it is not only contributing to the return of normalcy and rebuilding of Syria, but has also consistently called for a comprehensive and peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict through a Syrian-led dialogue, taking into account the legitimate aspirations of the people of Syria.

India voiced concern over the security and humanitarian situation in Yemen and said the recent exchange of prisoners by the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah, who had been detained in connection with the conflict, is a welcome development.

“India hopes that the parties will take more confidence building measures to provide the necessary impetus for the full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement,” the statement read.

India also hopes for peace and stability in Iraq with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

India noted that in the aftermath of the August blast that brought destruction to vast swathes of Beirut and inflicted heavy loss of lives, India stood in solidarity with Lebanon.

New Delhi sent emergency humanitarian aid of over 58 metric tons to Beirut. “We look forward to the swift formation of a new government that can offer political stability and also tackle the grave socio-economic challenges being faced by the people of Lebanon,” the statement said.

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US, India must focus on threat posed by China: Secretary of state Mike Pompeo

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NEW DELHI: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Tuesday stressed on the need for Washington and New Delhi to work together to counter the threat posed by Beijing to “security and freedom”

Pompeo’s comment came during the crucial 2+2 dialogue between India and the US, which saw the signing of a crucial defence agreement between the two countries.

“There is much more work to do for sure. We have a lot to discuss today: Our cooperation on the pandemic that originated in Wuhan, to confronting the Chinese Communist Party’s threats to security and freedom to promoting peace and stability throughout the region,” Pompeo said during talks with defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar. Pompeo was joined by defence secretary Mark Esper.

Esper too focussed on the apparent threat posed by China, specifically in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Our focus now must be on institutionalising and regularising our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future,” Esper said.

The comments assume significance as India is locked in a border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh.

In June this year, 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of PLA soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, hardening the mood in India against China and driving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to seek closer military ties with the United States.

In the US, President Donald Trump has made being tough on China a key part of his campaign to secure a second term in next week’s presidential election and Pompeo has been trying to bolster allies to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

This month, India invited Australia to join naval drills it holds each year with the United States and Japan, brushing off Chinese concerns that the exercises destabilise the region.

(With inputs from agencies)

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary Mark Esper meet NSA Doval

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NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper on Tuesday held talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, covering key aspects of growing strategic ties between the two countries.

Issues of strategic importance were discussed at the meeting, sources said.

The meeting took place ahead of the third edition of 2+2 ministerial dialogue. Esper and Pompeo arrived here on Monday for the crucial talks aimed at further boosting the defence and security ties between the two countries.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held separate talks with their US counterparts on Monday.

Earlier on Tuesday, both the top US administration officials visited the National War Memorial and paid tributes to India’s fallen heroes.

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