KABUL (Reuters) - - India has done well to resist U.S. calls for greater involvement in Afghanistan, the Taliban said in a rare direct comment about one of the strongest opponents of the hardline Islamist group that was ousted from power in 2001.
The Taliban also said they won’t let Afghanistan be used as a base against another country, addressing fears in New Delhi that Pakistan-based anti-India militants may become more emboldened if the Taliban return to power.
The Afghan Taliban have longstanding ties to Pakistan and striking a softer tone towards its arch rival India could be a sign of a more independent course.
Direct talks with the United States - which have since been suspended - and an agreement to open a Taliban office in Qatar to conduct formal peace talks have been seen as signs of a more assertive stance.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this month encouraged India to take a more active role in Afghanistan as most foreign combat troops leave in 2014. The Taliban said Panetta had failed.
“He spent three days in India to transfer the heavy burden to their shoulders, to find an exit, and to flee from Afghanistan,” the group said on its English website.
“Some reliable media sources said that the Indian authorities did not pay heed to (U.S.) demands and showed their reservations, because the Indians know or they should know that the Americans are grinding their own axe.”
There had been no assurance for the Americans, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters on Sunday.
“It shows that India understands the facts,” he said.
India is one of the biggest donors in Afghanistan, spending about $2 billion on projects ranging from the construction of highways to the building of the Afghan parliament. It has also won an iron ore concession in a $11 billion investment.
But New Delhi has avoided involvement in bolstering Afghan security, except for running courses for small groups of Afghan army officers at military institutions in India.
“No doubt that India is a significant country in the region, but is also worth mentioning that they have full information about Afghanistan because they know each other very well in the long history,” the Taliban said.
“They are aware of the Afghan aspirations, creeds and love for freedom. It is totally illogical they should plunge their nation into a calamity just for the American pleasure.”
India backed the Northern Alliance during the civil war and was frozen out of Afghanistan once the Taliban took over in 1996 until their ouster by U.S. forces. It has since developed close ties with Kabul, prompting Pakistani fears of encirclement.
Pakistan has strong traditional links with the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups. Islamabad denies that it uses them as proxies to gain leverage in Afghanistan ahead of any settlement to the war, or in case civil war breaks out after foreign troops leave.
Vikram Sood, a former chief of India’s intelligence agency, said the Taliban statement held an implicit warning for India.
“It’s more a gentle reminder asking India not to mess around in Afghanistan after the Americans leave,” he told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Nick Macfie