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Jaishankar likely to hold 1st in-person meet with Taliban foreign minister Muttaqi in Tashkent

External affairs minister is in Uzbekistan for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation foreign ministers’ meeting and is expected to meet Muttaqi on sidelines of main event.

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New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is likely to hold a bilateral meeting with Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting being held under the Uzbek presidency, ThePrint has learnt.

While there is no official confirmation on the meeting from either side, Afghanistan’s Taliban regime has been requesting a meeting with Jaishankar ever since India decided to reopen its embassy in Kabul in June this year, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.

If such a meeting does take place, it will be the first ever face-to-face interaction between Jaishankar and Muttaqi.

The proposed meeting, top-level sources said, will purely focus on issues concerning humanitarian aid and assistance meant for the Afghan people.

Jaishankar left Thursday on a two-day visit to Uzbekistan for the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting, where he is expected to have a slew of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the main event, including a meeting with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.

While Jaishankar and Muttaqi are likely to take stock of the humanitarian aid flowing from India to Afghanistan at the proposed meeting, the Afghan side is likely to make a proposal for New Delhi to resume work on some of the mega Indian infrastructure projects that were stalled by the overthrow of the former Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul, sources told ThePrint.

Jaishankar, on the other hand, is likely to “insist strongly” on the fact that New Delhi will not tolerate a rise in terrorism on Afghan soil, thereby reiterating the stand India took under UNSC Resolution 2593 passed in August last year during its presidency of the UN Security Council, sources added.

India has been engaging with the Taliban ever since the latter took power in Kabul in August last year. But it was in June this year that New Delhi made the decision to reopen its embassy in Afghanistan by sending a “technical team” there.

Earlier that month, India had sent an official delegation to Kabul led by J.P. Singh, joint secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran division) at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), who also held a meeting with Muttaqi. Singh is also part of the Indian delegation in Tashkent for the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting.

International conference on Afghanistan

Muttaqi, meanwhile, has been in Tashkent since the beginning of this week as he had to also attend a special meeting on Afghanistan hosted by the Uzbek government. The meeting was attended by more than 30 countries, including India.

The Uzbek foreign ministry said in a statement: “The main goal of the event is to develop a set of measures and proposals for the approaches of the world community to promote stability, security, post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan and its integration into regional cooperation processes in the interests of the multinational Afghan people and the whole world.”

MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Thursday at a media briefing that India “did participate in that event (at an official level)”.

“It was in continuation of our efforts to engage with the international community on issues related to Afghanistan. During this conference, India reiterated its commitment to assist the Afghan people in this difficult time and provide humanitarian assistance. We also reiterated UNSC 2593 (at the meeting),” Bagchi added.

At the international conference on Afghanistan, chaired by Uzbek foreign minister Vladimir Norov, the Taliban foreign minister assured all international participants that the government in Kabul is working every day to make Afghanistan secure, focussing on the country’s reconstruction. Afghanistan is hence open for business, he said.

“Before we came to power, everyone used to call for an end to violence in Afghanistan. Look, we are discussing the reconstruction of our country and developing its economy…We want investment,” Muttaqi added.

On Thursday, Muttaqi also held a meeting with Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari during which the two discussed “political, economic and humanitarian cooperation” between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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