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India reopens embassy in Kabul, sends ‘technical team’ with relief material for Afghanistan

According to the External Affairs Ministry, the decision to have a diplomatic presence in Kabul was taken keeping in mind ‘historical and civilisational relationship’ with Afghans.

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New Delhi: A little over 10 months after the Taliban seized power in Kabul and India subsequently shut its mission down, New Delhi Thursday deployed a “technical team” consisting of diplomats and others to the Afghan capital to “closely monitor and coordinate” the delivery of humanitarian assistance there, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement Thursday.

On 15 August 2021, Taliban Islamists took over Kabul as foreign forces were pulling out after 20 years in the country.

The following day, on 16 August, the Indian Embassy in Kabul shut down its main operations there, with the then Ambassador Rudrendra Tandon, other diplomats and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel posted there being evacuated by the Indian Air Force.

“India has a historical and civilisational relationship with the Afghan people. In order to closely monitor and coordinate the efforts of various stakeholders for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and in continuation of our engagement with the Afghan people, an Indian technical team has reached Kabul today and has been deployed in our embassy there,” the MEA statement said.

“Recently, another Indian team had visited Kabul to oversee the delivery operations of our humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and met with senior members of the Taliban. During the visit, an assessment of the security situation was also carried out,” the ministry added, referring to the 2 June visit to Kabul by an official delegation led by J.P. Singh, joint secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran Division), MEA.

The ministry also said, “Our longstanding links with Afghan society and our development partnership, including humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan, will continue to guide our approach going forward.”

India’s announcement was welcomed by the Taliban government, which said said it demonstrates the country’s security situation.

“IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) welcomes decision by India to return diplomats and technical team to their embassy in Kabul to continue their relations with the Afghan people and their humanitarian assistance,” said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spokesperson, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

He added: “The return of Indian diplomats to Afghanistan and reopening of embassy demonstrates that security is established in the country, and all political and diplomatic rights are respected.”

“IEA assures all existing embassies that the security of their compounds will be taken care of, in line with international diplomatic practices. IEA calls on other countries to return to their diplomatic compounds and reopen their embassies,” the Taliban government said.

Along with the technical team, which also consisted of intelligence officials, India also sent the first batch of relief material Thursday for the earthquake that left over 1,000 people dead in the country earlier this week.

Also read: India shouldn’t retain ties with Afghanistan’s previous rulers, says Taliban leader Shaheen

India’s ‘step-by-step’ plan to deal with Taliban

The decision to reopen the Indian Embassy in Kabul was taken during the 2 June visit “and was also communicated to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, sources told ThePrint.

The sources said that while the government had been acting cautiously in dealing with the Taliban rulers and had no plans to officially recognise them, New Delhi had been chalking out a “step-by-step plan” to resume its activities in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has been giving assurances to countries around the world to let their embassies function normally in the Afghan capital, but India wanted a “firm assurance” from their top leaders that there will be no threat to Indian diplomats there, especially from the Haqqani Network, a terrorist group that is part of the Taliban.

During the visit, J.P. Singh met Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mottaki and Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai.

The talks with the Taliban, however, began much before that, and the thaw was initiated immediately after the radical Islamist group took over Afghanistan.

Days after the Taliban entered Kabul — as their former president Ashraf Ghani, representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, fled — New Delhi reached out to the Taliban’s political headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

India opened channels of communication with the Taliban publicly on 31 August 2021, when the Indian Ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Stanikzai, then the head of Taliban’s Political Office in Doha.

Eventually, Russia played a central role when Moscow invited India to sit around a table along with other regional stakeholders to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan.

The issue of talking to the Taliban and resuming some of the key infrastructure projects there was also discussed at the first ever India-Central Asia Summit this January, with Turkmenistan pushing for the resumption of the decades-old Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project.

India sent a shipment of wheat and essential items in February using a convoy of trucks with the help of Pakistan. India has been delivering food shipments, medicines and other essential items to international agencies like the UN’s World Food Programme.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan push TAPI gas pipeline again but this is why India is being cautious


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