From India-Pak rivalry to investment in Afghanistan, what Taliban says about relations with India

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From regular press briefings to dedicated interviews with international media outlets, the Taliban is going to great lengths to whitewash the bloody image they rightfully earned during their previous regime.

The group has promised to be more reasonable regarding women’s rights, offer full protection to citizens and not carry out any retributive agenda against those that supported the erstwhile West-backed regime. But while the militant group may be sounding all the right notes, citizens and the international community remain sceptical about these claims.

This is especially true for India, what with New Delhi having substantial stakes in the Afghanistan in terms of joint infrastructure projects, and huge security ramifications as the Taliban is deemed close to Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence.

But Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen, in interaction with CNN-News18, claimed that the regime was ready to turn a new leaf.

Speaking about the Taliban’s intent to establish positive diplomatic ties with all countries, Shaheen said, “My message to them (international community) is that we just finished a war and we are leaving that chapter behind. It’s a new chapter and the people of Afghanistan need help.”

Taliban also appealed for financial aid from the international community.

He said, “All countries of the world should financially assist us to help the people of Afghanistan build their life and country. We value good relations with other countries. It is also their humanitarian compulsion to come for the help of the people of Afghanistan, 70 percent of Afghan’s are living below the poverty line. Also, we have 20 years of war of destruction and bloodshed. We will appreciate their help to the people of Afghanistan.”

The Taliban’s renewed efforts to extend an olive branch to world powers come amid  that the Taliban may be cash-strapped after International Monetary Fund and the US froze funds meant for the Afghan government.

When asked specifically about its plans regarding assets that India has already built or are still under development in Afghanistan, Shaheen said that India was welcome to complete pro-people projects as long as it recognises their “people-lead” government.

“I think it depends on your (India’s) action and your policy. Whether you adopt a hostile policy towards Afghanistan or it is a policy based on the relation with the people of Afghanistan and constructive posturing. So of course if it is positive then our people will reciprocate like the projects which are good for people of Afghanistan. The dam made by India and other projects made for the welfare of the people of Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan will welcome that.”

“What we were opposing was their siding with the government. What we have wanted for the last 20 years is that countries, including India, should have a relation with the people of Afghanistan, and not some token government. And they should also acknowledge the Afghan people’s intention for the liberation of their country. It was our point and our position and we have always said that no one should side with that puppet government. They should support the people of Afghanistan,” Shaheen said on Taliban’s India policy.

Ever since 9/11, India has invested some $2 billion in Afghanistan.

The major investments include the Salma Dam in western Afghanistan, the Delaram-Zaranj highway, and Afghanistan’s Parliament building, which ironically, the Taliban says it might use as the office of an Islamic council.

Viral videos showed Taliban forces taking over the Afghan Parliament and wielding weapons inside the building. The video showed a few Afghan fighters sitting on the chairs where the Afghan leaders sat just a few ago back when Ashraf Ghani held a joint session.

Shaheen also denied reports that Indian nationals awaiting evacuation in Kabul were ever abducted by Taliban.

“I refute this. I do not align with the word kidnap. We had already issued a statement that we will provide proper arrangements for the functioning of embassies and diplomats. I know that they had some problem with their documents and they were stopped for that for few hours. Whatever we had promised, we are committed to that. Of course, there are some spoilers present in and outside the country. And they are providing raw materials for propaganda against us and when you investigate then you will know that these reports are not true.”

This clarification was issued after reports on Saturday said that around 170 Indian nationals were ‘abducted’ by the Taliban only to be released later.

But there are much deeper fault lines running between India and the Taliban owing to its proximity to Pakistan’s ISI and army.

The Taliban, despite promises in the past, has continued to harbour terror group Al-Qaeda. Its main fighting arm, the Haqqani Network, has close links with a wing of the Islamic State which has trained Indian nationals and even used them for suicide attacks.

But nonetheless, the Taliban has, at least on paper, tried to assuage some of India’s concerns. By promising not to harm embassies or the embassy staff in Afghanistan, the group also claimed it will not let Afghan soil be used for perpetrating terrorism in India but it warned New Delhi against putting its boots on the ground to support any kind of anti-Taliban movement.

In another interview with India Today, Shaheen also claimed that notwithstanding its relationship with Pakistan, the Taliban wanted to stay clear of the rivalry between India and Pakistan.

“We do not want to be a part of rivalries between you [India] and Pakistan. We are the liberation force; we are the people of Afghanistan. We were fighting against the occupation. It is our legitimate right to have a free country, an independent country, as you [India] have. Your people [Indians] struggled against the British Raj and we have the same rights and the same goal,” Shaheen said.

Furthermore, news agency ANI quoted sources to claim that the Taliban is treating the Kashmir issue as a “bilateral and an internal matter”, despite a Pakistani leader from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party claiming that Islamabad will take the Taliban’s help to capture Kashmir.

Whatever its true intentions, the Taliban has an interest in projecting moderation to prevent the international community from isolating the government, as in the 1990s.

 

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