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SOURCE: THE PRINT

India could ramp up its military assistance to Afghanistan as US troops began drawing down, and talks between the Asian nation’s administration and the Taliban resume in Doha, Qatar.

During a recent phone-call between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Afghanistan Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar, New Delhi is believed to have assured Kabul of greater military assistance in times to come as the US begins the process to bring down its troop presence to 2,500 by February, from about 5,000 troops at present, sources told ThePrint.

According to sources, as Afghanistan now actively seeks to forge national as well as international consensus on the Taliban peace talks, it wants to reassure itself of the support it can seek from some of its “age-old friends” like India.

“A great pleasure to talk to my friend Indian EAM HE @DrSJaishankar. We discussed resumption of #AfghanPeaceTalks in Doha & garnering regional and intl support for a ceasefire leading to a political settlement in AFG. Congrats excellency on Covid vaccine roll out in India,” Atmar tweeted Friday.

“They (Jaishankar and Atmar) also discussed reduction of violence, the need for the establishment of a meaningful ceasefire, preserving the gains of the past 19 years, addressing issues related to the Afghan refugees in India, and expansion of bilateral cooperation,” added a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan.

Taliban peace talks, and India’s role in Afghanistan

February will mark the first anniversary of the signing of the ‘peace deal’ between the US and the Taliban that formally put an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan, the US’ longest ever. The deal was signed in Doha on 29 February 2020 between US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a witness.

Khalilzad, who was appointed as President Donald Trump’s key negotiator with the Taliban, is now back in Doha for the resumption of the peace talks. However, he has expressed America’s concern over the growing incidents of violence in Afghanistan, including targeted killings.

“The current levels (sic) of violence, including targeted killings, is unacceptable. Those perpetuating the violence seek to undermine the peace process and the country’s future. They do not reflect the will of the Afghan people, who yearn for peace,” he said in a tweet last week.

Since the Afghan government and the US decided to bring the Taliban back to mainstream politics, India has maintained that it supports a peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. Last year, during the visit of top Afghan leader Abdullah Abdullah, who is now chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) that’s overseeing the Afghan government’s talks with the Taliban for a power-sharing deal, New Delhi had assured Kabul of its “active involvement” in the peace talks.

India has played a key role in the restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan, having invested $2 billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country, which is facing a conflict for the past 19 years.

Since 2016, India has quietly been scaling up its military assistance to Afghanistan. It has already supplied four attack helicopters, and there are talks of more such assistance as the US troops completely exit the in the “coming months”, sources said.

However, they added, it remains to be seen how the peace talks play out under the new US administration under President-elect Joe Biden, which is yet to spell out its Afghanistan policy.