India joins meet with Taliban; Afghan terror, aid discussed

The Taliban team held talks with a delegation of Indian diplomats on the margins of a regional conference on Afghanistan hosted by Russia
Members of the Taliban delegation, icluding deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi (C), attend an international conference on Afghanistan in Moscow on October 20, 2021. (AFP)
Members of the Taliban delegation, icluding deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi (C), attend an international conference on Afghanistan in Moscow on October 20, 2021. (AFP)
Published on Oct 21, 2021 12:03 AM IST
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New Delhi

A Taliban team led by deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi held talks with a delegation of Indian diplomats on the margins of a regional conference on Afghanistan hosted by Russia on Wednesday and reportedly discussed the need to address the concerns of both sides.

There was no official word from the Indian side on the talks held on the sidelines of the “Moscow Format” meeting, which brought together diplomats from 10 countries, including India, Pakistan and China, and the Taliban delegation.

The talks represented the first contact between the Indian side and a top member of the Taliban’s interim cabinet, which was formed last month after the group marched into Kabul on August 15 following the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government. On August 31, India’s envoy to Qatar had met senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai.

A statement issued by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the delegation led by Hanafi met the Indian team led by joint secretary JP Singh, head of the Pakistan- Afghanistan-Iran desk in the external affairs ministry on the sidelines of the Moscow Format meeting.

“Both sides considered it necessary to address each other’s concerns and improve diplomatic and economic relations,” Mujahid said. The Indian side expressed its readiness to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, he added.

People familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that the Taliban spokesman’s remarks were not a full and accurate reflection of the discussions. India has said repeatedly in recent weeks that it stands ready to help the Afghan people against the backdrop of a looming humanitarian crisis.

Earlier, the diplomats from the 10 countries and the Taliban team discussed crucial issues such as providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and countering terror emanating from Afghan soil.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, in his opening remarks at the Moscow Format meeting, called on the Taliban to prevent anyone from using Afghan territory against the interests of third countries, primarily the immediate neighbours and the Central Asian states.

The Indian side was represented by joint secretary JP Singh and joint secretary (Eurasia) Adarsh Swaika. Discussions at the Moscow Format meeting dragged on for more than six hours, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

Lavrov, who held a separate meeting with the Taliban delegation before the Moscow Format meeting, said he had discussed with the Taliban leaders the need to prevent the use of Afghan soil against other countries.

Pointing to the lack of stability in Afghanistan, Lavrov said: “Numerous terrorist groups, primarily the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, are trying to take advantage of this in turn, and are once again rearing their heads and launching brazen [and] deadly attacks in various parts of the country.”

Speaking in Russian, he added, “Unfortunately, the problem of drug production in Afghanistan remains acute. Today there is a real threat of an overflow of terrorist and drug activity, including those masquerading as migration flows, onto the territory of neighbouring countries. In this context, for obvious reasons, we are especially concerned about the Central Asian region.”

Countering these threats to the security of Afghanistan and the surrounding region requires a “timely, adequate response both within the country and from external partners”, Lavrov said. “We call on the Taliban movement to strictly follow the line of preventing anyone from using the territory of Afghanistan against the interests of third countries, primarily against Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours - the countries of Central Asia, our friends and allies.”

The people cited above said the diplomats of several countries, including India, raised the counter-terrorism commitments made by the Taliban during the Moscow Format meeting.

Lavrov also said sustainable peace could be achieved in Afghanistan through the formation of an “inclusive government, which should fully reflect the interests of all ethnic and political forces”.

Hanafi, in his speech, contended the Taliban takeover of August 15 had resulted in a “historic transformation” that took place “without bloodshed and destruction”. According the text of his speech released by the Taliban, he said the security situation in Afghanistan is “satisfactory” and the Afghan people “have a responsible government committed to the national interest and safeguarding political freedom”.

The Afghan people, Hanafi said, expect the world community to “have a formal interaction” with the Taliban government as the “isolation of Afghanistan is of no benefit”. He also called on the US to lift a freeze on the foreign assets of Afghanistan.

A joint statement issued after the Moscow Format meeting noted the Taliban’s reaffirmation of previous commitments to “prevent use of the Afghan territory against its neighbours, other states in the region and the rest of the world”. Expressing concern at the activities of proscribed terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, the parties “reaffirmed their willingness to continue to promote security in Afghanistan”.

The 10 countries called on the Taliban leadership to take “further steps to improve governance and to form a truly inclusive government that adequately reflects the interests of all major ethno-political forces”. They also called on the Taliban to “practice moderate and sound internal and external policies, adopt friendly policies towards neighbours of Afghanistan...and respect the rights of ethnic groups, women and children”.

While expressing concern at the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the parties proposed to convene an international donor conference under the auspices of the UN as soon as possible.

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