U.S. envoy to Pakistan says India should talk to Taliban if Delhi feels it will bolster peace push

U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – India should speak with Taliban militants if it feels that it will help the peace process, Pakistan’s envoy to Washington said on Saturday, after a series of attacks in Afghanistan raised questions about whether the U.S. peace effort may collapse.

In an interview with The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said it would be “appropriate” for an India-Taliban engagement.

India and Pakistan have gone to war three times since they won independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and Pakistan has guarded the influence it has over the Taliban.

Islamabad has long been resistant to India increasing its influence in Pakistan.

“It is for India to respond to that suggestion,” Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Asad Khan told Reuters.

Asked if he was open to an Indian dialogue with the Taliban, Khan said: “If India feels that their engagement is going to help the peace process, then we would defer to their judgment. But it’s not for us to sit in judgment on what they should do or they shouldn’t do.”

He stopped short of saying he was open to an Indian engagement with the Taliban or whether Islamabad favored such a move.

However, any acquiescence by Islamabad to an Indian role could be seen in Kabul and elsewhere as a sign of growing international concern with the peace push.

Khan said that he would hopefully be speaking with Khalilzad soon and did not go by Indian media accounts, which he said in many cases are “fanciful” and give their own interpretations.

The two nuclear armed neighbors came close to another war last year after a deadly attack on Indian police by a Pakistan-based militant group resulted in air strikes by both countries.

Pakistan’s role in the peace negotiations is a delicate one, with Islamabad seeking to avoid demonstrating the kind of broad influence over the Taliban that Washington has long accused it of having.

Two attacks in Afghanistan on Tuesday have complicated the U.S. push for peace. One attack, on a Kabul hospital’s maternity ward, killed 24 people, including two babies. Another, at a funeral in eastern Afghanistan, killed 32.

The United States has blamed the Islamic State for the attacks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered the military on Tuesday to switch to “offensive mode” against the Taliban following the attacks.

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