India exploring resumption of diplomatic presence in Afghanistan
The government is looking at the possibility of posting a very limited number of junior officials, mainly to oversee consular matters and the distribution of humanitarian aid.
New Delhi: The Indian government is close to a decision on resuming a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan though the move will not amount to a recognition of the Taliban setup in Kabul, people familiar with the matter said.
The issue of India again having a diplomatic presence in Kabul figured at a meeting on June 2 between joint secretary JP Singh, the external affairs ministry’s pointperson on Afghanistan, and the Taliban’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
A team of functionaries from Indian security agencies had made an unannounced visit to Kabul in February to make an assessment of the security situation in connection with the possible return of Indian officials to the embassy in Kabul, the people cited above said.
The recent visit to Kabul by the Indian team led by Singh was described as being focused on India’s humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people, though the issue of India’s diplomatic presence came up at more than one meeting, the people said.
The government is looking at the possibility of posting a very limited number of junior officials, mainly to oversee consular matters and the distribution of humanitarian aid, the people added.
India had pulled out all its officials from its embassy in Kabul after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August. Some local Afghan staff are currently responsible for the upkeep of the mission.
The people said a number of factors were part of the process on the Indian side about resuming a diplomatic presence in Kabul, including the need to maintain a foothold in a crucial region at a time when other key regional players such as China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan have already bolstered their presence in the Afghan capital. The missions of these four countries are headed by ambassadors.
“There is a need for India to have a presence in Kabul in such circumstances or it faces the possibility of being squeezed out,” one of the people cited above said.
The Taliban have made a concerted outreach to the Indian side, apparently in an effort to balance the pressure on the setup in Kabul from Pakistan. In recent weeks, the Pakistani establishment has been pushing the Afghan Taliban to help negotiate a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. “In a way, the Taliban also need India,” the person said.
During his meeting with Singh, Muttaqi described the visit by the Indian team as a “good beginning” and pointedly raised the issue of India’s diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and provision of consular services, especially to students and patients. Deputy foreign minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who also met Singh, said “Afghan-Indian relations would move forward based on mutual respect and joint bilateral legitimate interests”, and “would not be influenced by other countries’ inter-rivalry”.
These developments have come at a time when there is growing realisation in New Delhi that the Taliban setup in Kabul is here to stay for the foreseeable future, if not several years, in the absence of an effective alternative. The National Resistance Front led by Ahmad Massoud has been able to organise its members in small pockets but experts believe it is still not in a position to mount an effective resistance to the Taliban across Afghanistan.
Sameer Patil, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said all the factors had led to the recognition of the “harsh reality that Afghanistan under the Taliban will be a long haul”. He added, “It is not in India’s interest to overlook this reality for two reasons – every other regional player has evolved a working relationship with the Taliban, and the need of the Afghan people for humanitarian aid.”
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