New Delhi: India and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Thursday discussed a host of issues — resumption of stalled infrastructure projects, activation of diplomatic ties, and restarting the issue of visas for Afghan students and patients — in Delhi’s first-ever diplomatic outreach to the Taliban interim government.
For the first time since the Taliban takeover on 15 August 2021, India has sent an official delegation to Afghanistan, led by J.P. Singh, joint secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran Division) at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
The visit will go on for a few days, during which time the delegation is expected to visit places beyond Kabul.
On Thursday, Singh met the Taliban’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Mottaki.
“Our team will be meeting international organisations, [and] will visit various places where our programmes and projects are being implemented… Meet senior members [of the Taliban],” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Thursday during a press briefing. “This is a visit that is still going on in a difficult situation.”
“India, of course, has historical and civilisational ties with the Afghan people and these ties will continue to guide our approach to Afghanistan,” Bagchi said.
While India had been maintaining contacts with the Taliban, he said, this was the first such visit to Kabul since they came to power last year.
On the reopening of India’s embassy in Kabul, Bagchi said, “I think we should look at the developments since last August. Post-15-August last year, in the light of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, it was decided to bring back all India-based personnel and officials. However, [our] local staff have continued to function and ensure proper maintenance and upkeep of our premises there and have also been assisting in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”
In terms of humanitarian assistance, India has sent 20,000 metric tonnes (MT) of wheat, 13 tonnes of medicines, 500,000 doses of Covid vaccines, and winter clothing for the Afghan people so far.
This aid has been distributed through international organisations like the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, and UNICEF because India doesn’t have people on the ground to distribute it.
On the issue of granting recognition to the Taliban and the embassy being operational in New Delhi, Bagchi said, “There is an Afghan embassy here which is operating. Yes, there are issues there which have to be resolved. The international community itself is looking at it.
“We are engaged with them on what the international community’s expectations are on recognition of the Taliban and I think that remains there”.
India is in the process of shipping more medical assistance and foodgrains to Afghanistan, a press release issued by the MEA said.
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India sought positive relations with Afghanistan, says Taliban
According to a statement issued by the Taliban government, the diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and India — their bilateral trade and humanitarian assistance — were discussed during the meeting between Singh and Mottaki.
“The foreign minister welcomed the first delegation from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and government and called it a good start between the two countries, and thanked India for its recent humanitarian and health assistance,” the statement said.
Mottaki also spoke about the resumption of India’s projects in Afghanistan, its diplomatic presence there, and providing consular services to Afghans, particularly students and patients, said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spokesperson, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“The Indian delegation said they sought positive relations with Afghanistan as in the past,” he said, adding that India has also promised to further facilitate two-way trade between both countries in order to promote Afghan exports. “Both sides also agreed to expand interactions between the two countries.”
In an interview with ThePrint last month, the Taliban’s international spokesperson Suhail Shaheen had said that India shouldn’t maintain contact with the previous Ashraf Ghani government and that the Indian embassy should resume its operations in Kabul.
India had shut down its embassy in Kabul in August 2021 when the Taliban took over. Before that, India had also closed down its consulates in Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar, Herat, and Jalalabad due to security concerns that emerged amid the withdrawal of US-led forces from the country.
‘Contact with Taliban is important’
While India had been communicating with the Taliban leaders based in their political office at Doha, Qatar, this is the first time they have opened a channel with the Taliban officials in Afghanistan.
“Some kind of contact is important, we cannot absolutely have no contact with them. This kind of meeting is necessary … This is not about giving them recognition but we have to keep a connection with the Afghan people who depend on us for various humanitarian needs,” Jayant Prasad, former Indian envoy to Kabul, told ThePrint.
On the issue of reopening the Indian embassy in Kabul, Prasad said, “Opening the embassy in Kabul is doubtful because we cannot forget the fact that one section of the Taliban has attacked us multiple times.
“How secure are we going to be if we reopen the embassy? Are guarantees from the leadership in Kabul going to be enough? Several mosques have been bombed, people have been killed since they took over, so we need to see all these aspects.”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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