India invited to SCO meet on Afghanistan
Three meetings scheduled in the Central Asian states of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan this week will allow external affairs minister S Jaishankar to compare notes on the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan with interlocutors from several key countries.
Jaishankar will visit the Central Asian states against the backdrop of growing concern in the region over the Taliban’s violent campaign aimed at capturing territory while stalling on peace talks aimed at finding a political settlement.
He will visit Tajikistan during July 13-14 at the invitation of foreign minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin to participate in a meeting of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). On the second day of the visit, he will take part in a meeting of the SCO Contact Group on Afghanistan.
Jaishankar will then travel to Uzbekistan to participate in a conference on regional trade, transport and connectivity in Tashkent during July 15-16. He is expected to meet several key interlocutors on the margins of the conference with the theme “Central and South Asia: Regional connectivity. Challenges and opportunities”.
Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is set to attend all three events, but people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that no bilateral meeting with Jaishankar has been lined up.
Though the main item on the agenda of the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting is the preparations for meeting of the SCO heads of states to be held in Dushanbe during September 16-17, the people cited above said, adding that the situation in Afghanistan is expected to figure prominently in the discussions.
Afghanistan has observer status with SCO, which includes India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and Afghan foreign minister Haneef Atmar is expected to participate in both meetings in Dushanbe.
Though the focus of the conference in Uzbekistan is on regional trade and connectivity, the presence of top leaders will provide opportunities for the Indian side to discuss the situation in Afghanistan on the margins of the meeting. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is expected to attend the meeting in Tashkent.
The Uzbek government was keen to rope in the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers for the meeting in Tashkent, but the two countries will be represented by their foreign ministers. Representatives of China, Russia, Iran, the European Union and the US are also set to participate in the meeting.
India has expressed strong concerns about the levels of violence in Afghanistan and Jaishankar asserted the need for a legitimate government in Kabul during a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow last week. Russia has its own concerns about the violence in Afghanistan spilling over into the Central Asian states.