“India has to decide whether it wants to engage directly with the Taliban”. India still views the Taliban as a terrorist outfit with which there cannot be any negotiation

As the Afghan peace process is gathering momentum, the US is making it clear to India that there can't be any more ifs and buts. Get on with the process that has been initiated or get out - is the message that the outgoing US principal deputy assistant secretary Alice Wells has given.

While India continues to view the Taliban as a terrorist outfit with which there cannot be any negotiation, the US perceives it as an Afghan political group which has a stake in the state of Afghanistan. “The Taliban have made commitments against international terrorism,” pointed out Wells in her farewell web presser with select South and Central Asian journalists. Wells was handling South Asia and Central Asia in the state department. “It’s up to India to determine how best to support the peace process,” she said, while conceding that “India is a very important actor in Afghanistan, having pledged $3 billion in assistance.” 

The US would continue to recognise that India has a role in Afghanistan, but India has to decide whether “it wants to engage directly with the Taliban”. All the same, India would have to accept the reality that the Taliban will be part of the new Afghan regime.

Claiming that President Donald Trump's three years of Afghan initiative is bringing in the results, Wells said it is clear now that the Afghan war will end via a political settlement and not on the battlefield. India will have a role in the development of Afghanistan, and Pakistan will have to take decisive action against militant groups. The Taliban, she pointed out, have “committed that Afghanistan will never again be a base for international terrorism.” The current level of violence is unacceptable, but the US would hold the Taliban responsible for bringing it down.

According to her, Trump has effected a fundamental change in the US approach to Pakistan. The US now holds Pakistan accountable for the presence of terrorist and militant groups on its soil. “President Trump’s suspension of security assistance in January 2018 demonstrated our resolve,” she said. “And since then, we’ve seen constructive steps by Pakistan to encourage the Taliban to advance the Afghan peace process. Pakistan has also taken initial steps toward curtailing other terrorist groups that threaten the region, such as arresting and prosecuting Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Saeed and beginning to dismantle terrorist financing structures.” 

Wells also used the opportunity to paint China as the new baddie in the international order, which needs to be checked. The flare-up on the border with India, she said, is a reminder “that Chinese aggression is not always just rhetorical.” 

She pointed to the role of ASEAN and the quadrilateral with Japan, India and Australia in reinforcing the principles of the post-World War II economic order. “What we want to see is an international system that provides benefit to everyone, and not a system in which there is suzerainty to China. And so I think in this instance the border disputes are a reminder of the threat posed by China,” she put bluntly.