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Indian Army Chief bats for unconditional talks with Taliban

New Delhi, Jan 9: Indian Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat on Wednesday endorsed the option of dialogue with the Taliban provided there are no preconditions and the talks are aimed at bringing lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Rawat’s remarks came against the backdrop of efforts by Pakistan, the US, Russia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

However, the Taliban have refused to engage with the government in Kabul and India has kept a close watch on these developments because of Pakistan’s influence on the militants.

Speaking during a session on countering “terrorism” at the Raisina Dialogue, Rawat said youngsters in Jammu and Kashmir had been “radicalised through misinformation” but the Islamic State was unable to gain a foothold among India’s Muslims because of family values and the work done by security agencies.

“When you talk to the terrorists or any organisation of that kind, you have to talk without preconditions…because when you start attaching preconditions, then it kind of gives a sense of a notion of victory, that one or the other side is talking from a position of strength or victory,” he said in response to a question on talks with the Taliban.

“There should be talks with the Taliban so long as they do not come out with any preconditions and so long as they are looking at lasting peace in Afghanistan and bringing about stability in that country. It is in our interest, it is in the region’s interest and in Pakistan’s interest. We all want stability.”

Rawat expressed misgivings about Pakistan’s role, saying it had “always treated Afghanistan as its backyard”.

He added, “So they would always want a situation in Afghanistan which is more favourable to them. So even if it implies speaking to the devil, I think they will do it.”

Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani envoy to the US and a vocal critic of the Pakistan Army, who was part of the same session, said the Taliban have the psychological upper hand because the US had never focused on a key problem – the “safe havens” for the militants in another country.

The Taliban understand that the Americans are anxious to leave and this made them feel stronger and show disrespect to the Afghan government.

He questioned whether the Taliban would change their ideology if the US were to withdraw and said: “A settlement that makes the Taliban feel they have won will embolden those who sponsor militancy.”

Rawat said radicalisation had taken a different form in India, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, where youngsters “under the sway of misinformation, disinformation and a lot of falsehoods on religion” have taken to militancy.

“So long as there are nations which are going to continue to sponsor militancy as a state policy, this phenomenon will continue,” he added.

“The Islamic State had not been able to find its feet in the manner it has found in some other countries in spite of our nation being populated with a large number of Muslims”, Rawat said. This was because “we have rich family values and the good work done by security agencies in tracking militant activities.”