First formal diplomatic contact between India, Taliban: Safe return of nationals a priority

The meeting was held at the Indian embassy in Doha, on the request of the Taliban side, the external affairs ministry said in a brief statement
India’s ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, flagged issues when he met Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha. (REUTERS File)
India’s ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, flagged issues when he met Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha. (REUTERS File)
Published on Aug 31, 2021 06:07 PM IST
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India on Tuesday raised with the Taliban the safe return of Indian nationals still in Afghanistan and concerns about Afghan soil being for anti-India activities during the first formal diplomatic contact between the two sides.

India’s ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, flagged these issues when he met Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha. The meeting was held at the Indian embassy in Doha, on the request of the Taliban side, the external affairs ministry said in a brief statement.

“Discussions focused on safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan. The travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities, who wish to visit to India also came up,” the statement said.

Mittal also “raised India’s concern that Afghanistan’s soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner,” it added.

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“The Taliban representative assured the ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed,” the statement said without giving details.

As first reported by Hindustan Times in June, India had for the first time opened channels of communication with several Afghan Taliban factions and leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, last year. The outreach was largely being led by Indian security officials and was limited to Taliban factions and leaders that were perceived as being outside the sphere of influence of Pakistan.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first time that India has acknowledged any sort of official contact with the Taliban since the group assumed power in Kabul on August 15, following the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government. Experts said it was also significant that the meeting was sought by the Taliban’s political leadership.

Stanekzai, seen as the number two in the Taliban’s negotiating team and third overall among leaders based in Qatar, trained for several years at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun in the early 1980s when he was an officer in the Afghan Army. He has apparently taken on a key role in foreign relations, including the Taliban’s outreach to countries in the region.

In a nearly 46-minute video posted on the Taliban’s social media platforms on Saturday, Stanekzai had said the group wants to continue Afghanistan’s political, economic and cultural ties with India. This was the first time a member of the Taliban’s top hierarchy has spoken on the issue since the takeover of Kabul.

“India is very important for this subcontinent. We want to continue our cultural, economic and trade ties with India like in the past,” Stanekzai said.

“Trade with India through Pakistan is very important for us. With India, trade through air corridors will also remain open,” he said, outlining the Taliban’s plans for trade in the region.

“We give due importance to our political, economic and trade ties with India and we want these ties to continue. We are looking forward to working with India in this regard,” Stanekzai added.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022