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Zalmay Khalilzad to brief India about talks with Taliban

AT Monitoring Desk-NEW DELHI: The US representative for Afghanistan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, will visit India early January to brief Indian government about his recent reconciliation efforts with the Taliban and future Indo-US partnership in that country, in the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s decision to reduce American troops in Afghanistan by half. 
India, which has been in talks with the US over its Afghan campaign, has not been particularly satisfied with Washington’s efforts to hold reconciliation meetings with the Taliban without adequate consultations with New Delhi, The Economic Times has reported. 

Khalilzad visited the region twice in recent months to hold talks with the Taliban but skipped Delhi both times. Now, the senior US diplomat of Afghan origin is scheduled to participate in Raisina Dialogue — India’s premier foreign policy dialogue — to be held here during January 8-10. 

Khalilzad has always batted for a bigger role for India in Afghanistan. So, it was surprising when he decided to give New Delhi a miss during his last two visits for consultations while holding talks with all other stakeholders, including Pakistan. The US reconciliation efforts with Taliban have coincided with China’s steps to create a Beijing-Islamabad-Kabul triangle to safeguard its interests and extend the Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan. 

Meanwhile, the Modi government has intensified its dialogue with Russia on Afghanistan, including high-level discussions held last week, and is exploring joint initiatives to safeguard its interests in the landlocked country. The Russian President’s envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, met senior Indian officials to brainstorm the Afghan situation that is also a priority for Moscow amid spreading network of the ISIS in the Af-Pak region. 
There has been no formal response yet from India on the US decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. India would want to understand which US troops are being pulled out — those involved in counter-terrorism, those advising the Afghan Army, or both, and timeframe for the withdrawal, sources indicated. 

The Trump administration has decided to withdraw 7,000 of 14,000 troops from Afghanistan. But there has been no official announcement. Trump has been keen to pull out of Afghanistan, as was President Barack Obama. The Modi government would like to understand if the decision to cut troops’ presence was tied to peace talks, sources hinted. 

Interestingly, the Pentagon said in its semi-annual Afghan report to the US Congress that India interpreted the new US South Asia policy as an opportunity to increase its economic involvement with Afghanistan. 

Pentagon said the US’ South Asia strategy, announced by President Trump in August last year, had focused on pressuring Pakistan to limit support and safe haven for proxy terrorist and militant groups, and to play a constructive role in facilitating Afghan reconciliation. 

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