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India can engage the Taliban in a constructive way, says Afghan envoy to India Mamundzay

In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Farid Mamundzay, Afghan envoy to India, said New Delhi can 'encourage' the Taliban to 'accept rule of law'.

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New Delhi: With India re-opening its Embassy in Kabul last week and the Taliban welcoming the move, Afghanistan’s ambassador to India has said that New Delhi should now “engage” the Taliban in a “constructive way” and “encourage” them to accept the rule of law and political inclusivity.

In a freewheeling conversation with ThePrint, Farid Mamundzay, who was appointed as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India by the former Ashraf Ghani government, said the Afghan people felt “they were left alone” when New Delhi shut its embassy in Kabul in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover on 15 August 2021.

Seated in front of a portrait of Ghani that still adorns the walls of the Embassy in New Delhi, along with the old tricolour Afghan flag of the erstwhile Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Mamundzay lauded India’s decision to reopen its Embassy in the Afghan capital, calling it a “positive move”.

This, he said, will enable New Delhi to directly provide aid to the Afghan people, who are reeling under a humanitarian crisis, adding that from India’s own security perspective, the move would allow it to keep a watchful eye at a time when “terrorist activities have increased in Afghanistan”.

Mamundzay also spoke about 15 August 2021 – the day Kabul fell to the Taliban after western troops initiated a hasty withdrawal – and how days before that, the Ghani government was scrambling for more logistical support and arms to keep Taliban fighters at bay. Former president Ghani, along with his entire cabinet, fled Afghanistan on the same day the Taliban entered Kabul.

“The US did not end the Afghan war, they ended their involvement in the war, the war continued. They left us at a stage where we continued with the war and sadly, our part of the world failed due to poor leadership. We were not only failed by the West but there have been instances when we failed ourselves,” he said.

On Afghan missions operating seamlessly despite the crisis in Afghanistan, Mamundzay said that hundreds of Afghan diplomats continue to work relentlessly for lesser compensation, hoping that the “Taliban will give peace a chance”.


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India needs to ‘capitalise’ on Taliban’s gesture

Mamundzay, who has been working as Afghanistan’s envoy to India since September 2020, said the Afghan people “have always desired for greater involvement of India” in their country. This is why the Afghans “felt they were left alone” when India left suddenly, he said.

“There have been very close contacts between our people. The [Afghan] Republic doesn’t exist today but their [Afghans’] relation with the people of India exists. It is the relation between India and Afghanistan and not between the Republic of India and the Republic of Afghanistan.

“Those relations are several millennia old. Those relations have been there and will be there regardless of changes in regime and changes in governments,” Mamundzay told ThePrint.

He added: “Our expectations from India were high during the time when Kabul fell. We expected, as a strong and historical friend, India would take certain initiatives to help the Afghan people in their difficult time. Sadly, that did not happen.”

Mamundzay stressed that India did not come forward when the US and European countries were helping common Afghans flee the Taliban last year.

“Afghans needed a helping hand to leave the country; the US helped a great deal, the Europeans – the UK, France, Germany and Italy – and many other European countries came forward and took their share of responsibility. That, sadly, did not happen in the case of India. The Afghans felt that they were left alone,” he said.

He also recalled how India decided to cancel all valid visas issued to Afghan nationals and moved towards a system of e-visas, which led to difficulties for Afghans who wanted to come to India. 

“There has been a blanket approach on the part of New Delhi… The entire country did not become Taliban overnight. There were students, there were some very historic friends of India, so they were not supported, they were not given the right assistance at a required time,” Mamundzay said.

However, he said, it is good that India has decided to reopen its diplomatic mission within weeks of a delegation led by J.P. Singh, joint secretary (Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran Division), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), arriving in Kabul earlier this month.

“For security reasons, India can’t just turn a blind eye to what is happening in Afghanistan,” he underlined, adding that many regional countries have chosen to maintain their presence in the Afghan capital, including China, Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Russia and Turkmenistan, among others.

“India is too big to be left out of that. The Afghan people desire their presence in Kabul.”

“India can engage the Taliban in a constructive way. As the world’s largest democracy, India has a role to play here and that is to encourage the Taliban to come forward and accept rule of law, accept political inclusivity and encourage them to take steps that are appropriate,” said Mamundzay.

Cautioning that “instability in Afghanistan will cost the entire region”, the Afghan envoy said that India’s outreach is “morally right, it is politically right and Taliban has welcomed India’s involvement”.

“I think India needs to capitalise on that for the greater good of this region and the greater good of Afghanistan,” he added.

‘US ended its involvement in the war, the war continued’

The war in Afghanistan continues and with it, the suffering of the Afghan people, Mamundzay said, referring to the withdrawal of American troops from the country after two decades of fighting.

“The collapse of Afghanistan did not happen overnight, the start of the collapse began when the US reached a peace deal with the Taliban. When the Taliban realised that if they can take over Kabul forcefully, why negotiate? They were given a free hand by the Western generals, by the US,” he said.

Mamundzay explained: “The Taliban realised they could take over the country as soon as the troops left. We relied on the US and other NATO allies for the war machinery, ammunition and logistics. And in the last days [before the collapse], we were having issues with logistics, we were having issues with ammunition. It was not an Army that existed for hundreds of years or half a century. It was an army that had been there for almost 15 years.”

The Afghan army was “more of a counterterrorism force”, he said, adding that it was “not a conventional army”.

“They did their best but were left alone. The US did not end the Afghan war, they ended their involvement in the war, the war continued.”

The Afghan diplomat also blamed Afghanistan’s “poor leadership” at the time for accelerating the fall of Kabul. He, however, said former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah – former chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation – are actively talking to the Taliban to bring in a stable political system there.

Terrorism on the rise in Afghanistan

Mamundzay also said that while all eyes are now on the Russia-Ukraine war, terrorist activities in Afghanistan are on the rise with the active presence of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and most importantly, Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) in the region.

As many as 21 terrorist outfits are active in Afghanistan while ISIS-K operatives have doubled their numbers to 4,000 from 2,000 since last August, he said, pointing out that we have seen “increasing attacks on places of worship, including mosques and gurdwaras and other places where Sufism is practised”.

“Afghans are fed up with more conflict… We, Afghans, were never been involved in any major terrorist activities. 

“There was not a single Afghan in 9/11, no Afghans hijacked the planes that hit the twin towers; no Afghans were involved in the London bombing 7/7 (2005), Madrid bombing (2004), Taj Palace bombing (26/11), Indian parliament attack (2001), Pulwama (2019) or any other attack in the region or internationally. Yet, Afghans pay the price for those atrocities. We are the victims. So, we require help. Our people are held hostage by terrorist outlets,” he told ThePrint.

Mamundzay said he hopes that the interim Taliban government in Afghanistan will find a way to allow the establishment of some kind of political structure with a Constitution and a Parliament with elected members and opposition parties.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)


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