New Delhi: India is planning to host a meeting next month involving the national security advisers (NSAs) of all countries in the region with a stake in Afghanistan’s stability, ThePrint has learnt. These include Pakistan and China, high-level official sources said.
India, the sources added, has also sent invitations for the planned in-person NSA-level meeting to Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The invites were sent out Friday but no country had confirmed its participation by Saturday evening, the sources said.
The NSA-level meeting is expected to take place around 10-13 November.
The meeting — an Indian initiative — was supposed to take place in April, amid growing concerns about Afghanistan after NATO set a deadline for the departure of its troops from the war-torn country. The erstwhile Ashraf Ghani government was among the invitees at the time.
Backchannel talks between India and Pakistan were also believed to be in full swing then. However, the meeting could not take place due to the worsening security situation in Afghanistan. By 15 August, before the international troops had completed their departure, Kabul had fallen to the Taliban.
The insurgent group has since set up its own regime in Afghanistan but has yet to be recognised by international governments.
While Islamabad is an invitee at the NSA talks, sources in Pakistan said its participation will be “difficult”, pointing to the Taliban dispensation in Kabul.
Sources in the Pakistan government said it will be against Islamabad’s official stance to participate in a meeting where no representative from the new Taliban dispensation will be invited.
It was reportedly because of Pakistan’s insistence on Taliban representation that a proposed informal SAARC meeting last month never materialised. Other member states objected to Pakistan’s proposal, urging instead that Afghanistan be represented by an empty chair.
Pakistan had also batted for the Taliban to be represented at the UN General Assembly last month in New York, to no avail.
If the invitation is accepted, however, it will be Pakistan NSA Moeed Yusuf’s first-ever visit to India.
The decision to hold the NSA meeting was taken, official sources said, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit last month, stressed on deploying counter-terrorism mechanisms that are laid out under the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS).
As India grows increasingly concerned about the Taliban takeover’s spillover effect in the region, New Delhi is intensifying its efforts to chalk out a strategy to deal with Afghanistan.
It is also among the invitees to the 20 October Moscow Format talks next month where a representative from the Taliban regime will also be present.
The Moscow Format talks have been in place since 2017 as an initiative to resolve issues plaguing Afghanistan. India last participated in it in 2018, where former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan T.C.A. Raghavan served as the country’s representatives.
The Taliban are operating under the nomenclature Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The day after it seized power, India shut down its embassy in Kabul. Four consulates in Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif were closed earlier.
According to another source, there are efforts underway by members of the erstwhile civilian government in Afghanistan to create a government-in-exile with Ahmad Massoud — son of Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who fought the Taliban for years before he was assassinated by the al-Qaeda in 2001.
Ahmad Massoud, who led the Panjshir resistance against the Taliban alongside former Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, is currently believed to be in Tajikistan.
The source, however, said there has been a rift between Massoud and Saleh since the Panjshir valley fell to the Taliban last month.
Last month, the Taliban regime sought a video conference with all its embassies and diplomats, but most refused to participate, the source added.
Since the Taliban took over, India has spoken to them once — when India’s Ambassador to Qatar Deepak Mittal met the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, to discuss the “safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan”.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the meeting had taken place on the Taliban’s request.
All eyes are now on the Moscow round of talks, which will be seen as the first official platform between the Narendra Modi government and the Taliban administration after an interim cabinet was announced in Kabul last month.
“We have received an invitation for the Moscow Format meeting on Afghanistan on 20 October. We will be participating in it,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said last week during a media briefing.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)