India to join Afghan talks

India today confirmed that it will join six-nation talks on Afghanistan's future that Russia is hosting on February 15, two months after Moscow snubbed New Delhi by ignoring it in favour of Islamabad and Beijing during the last round of talks.

By Charu Sudan Kasturi
  • Published 10.02.17
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New Delhi. Feb. 9: India today confirmed that it will join six-nation talks on Afghanistan's future that Russia is hosting on February 15, two months after Moscow snubbed New Delhi by ignoring it in favour of Islamabad and Beijing during the last round of talks.

Iran, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Russia are the other countries that will participate in the consultations in Moscow that are emerging as critical at a time America's plans for Afghanistan under President Donald Trump are largely unclear.

The Telegraph was the first to report on the multilateral consultations next week, and Russia's decision to invite India following months of cold vibes between the nations over Russia's apparent preference for Pakistan as an ally on Afghanistan.

The six nations will be represented by their top diplomats on Afghanistan, and the talks will be chaired by Russia's special envoy for relations with Kabul, Zamir Kabulov. India's delegation will be led by Gopal Baglay, joint secretary in charge of relations with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran at the ministry of external affairs.

"India has always believed in close and constructive cooperation for peace, stability, security and development in Afghanistan," foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said. "To this end, we actively participate in several bilateral and multilateral consultations. In this context, we are happy to accept the invitation of Russia."

The Russian invitation and India's plans to participate represent the latest efforts at a patch up between the friends after growing differences and rising suspicions on both sides.

Those suspicions and frustrations peaked after Russia invited Pakistan and China for trilateral talks on Afghanistan's security on December 27 in Moscow, without inviting Kabul and New Delhi.

Russia is worried about the growing footprint of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and views other rival militant groups there - like the Taliban - as the most effective counter to the IS, which it fears may otherwise spread to its borders.

But its choice of Pakistan as a partner to bring the Taliban to negotiations for an anti-IS front triggered rare public criticism of Russia by India, which usually prefers to articulate any differences with Moscow through diplomatic mechanisms.

"We do not believe that holding meetings on Afghanistan alone is going to solve the problems of Afghanistan," junior foreign minister V.K. Singh had said at a media briefing on January 4, when asked about the trilateral talks in Moscow. "Eventually it is about delivering benefits on the ground which are seen by the people of Afghanistan. India's own developmental record in Afghanistan is well known and it speaks for itself and that is how our relationship is so close."

The invitation from Moscow comes after a series of meetings between senior Indian and Russian officials aimed at ironing out wrinkles that have crept into the relationship.

National security adviser Ajit Doval visited Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev on January 30-31. Russia's deputy foreign minister Oleg Syromolotov visited New Delhi for counter-terrorism talks on January 31.

On February 1, India announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Russia in June - almost certainly before he visits Washington to meet Trump at the White House.