In the meeting with US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale conveyed India’s preference for having an elected government in Kabul

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, who met Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, this week during his trip to the US, got a briefing on the state of play in the negotiations between the US and Taliban, which was held in Doha.

US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad has conveyed to Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale that anti-India terrorist groups will not be allowed to operate in Afghanistan, and this has been part of the US-Taliban conversation.

Pakistan and ISI-backed Taliban have always used Afghan territory to mount terrorist attacks against India and Indian interests in Afghanistan. As the US engages Taliban and finalises conditions for troop withdrawal, Delhi’s interests are in protecting its interests against future threats against itself in Afghanistan. South Block’s sustained engagement with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is a step in that direction.

When Khalilzad told Gokhale that among the issues discussed with the Taliban, there has been an assurance that Afghanistan’s territory will not be used for terrorist activities, the foreign secretary asked him whether this included “anti-India” groups as well. Khalilzad’s answer was in the affirmative, sources said.

Gokhale is also learnt to have conveyed to Khalilzad, an Afghan-born US diplomat, that India does not want an “interim arrangement”, and wants an elected political structure in place in Kabul. Delhi has been pushing for elections on time in Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary, who had a detailed meeting with Khalilzad, was briefed on the four issues that are dominating discussions between the US and the Taliban —- counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire.

After what he called a “marathon round of talks” with the Taliban in Doha, Khalilzad had said the conditions for peace have improved. “It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides,” he tweeted.

“Peace requires agreement on four issues: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire. In January talks, we ‘agreed in principle’ on these four elements. We’re now ‘agreed in draft’ on the first two,” he said.

“When the agreement in draft about a withdrawal timeline and effective counter terrorism measures is finalised, the Taliban and other #Afghans, including the government, will begin intra-Afghan negotiations on a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire,” he said.

“My next step is discussions in Washington and consultations with other partners. We will meet again soon, and there is no final agreement until everything is agreed,” Khalilzad said.

Last month, the MEA had said that it was not only closely following the developments related to peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan by different stakeholders but was also very active and in very regular contact with all other stakeholders including Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Khalilzad visited India in January, and met the Indian leadership including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Gokhale. Indian ambassador to the US Harshvardhan Shringla also met him last month, where he was briefed on US efforts in the region.

Both sides have shared perspectives on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, and Delhi has made it clear that peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan should be Afghan owned, Afghan led and Afghan controlled.