India to participate in Moscow Format dialogue on Afghanistan
New Delhi : India on Thursday confirmed its participation in a meeting of the Moscow Format dialogue on Afghanistan on October 20 that is set to be joined by representatives of the Taliban setup in Kabul.
This will be the second time that the Indian side will come face-to-face with Taliban representatives at a Moscow Format meeting since 2018, and also the second formal contact between the two sides since the Taliban marched into Kabul on August 15 after the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government.
India has so far held off on any formal recognition of the Taliban setup in Kabul, with New Delhi saying there are questions about its legitimacy as it is not inclusive and was formed without negotiations.
“We have received an invitation for the Moscow Format meeting on Afghanistan on October 20. We will be participating in it,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said during a weekly news briefing.
There is no confirmation on who will attend the meeting but India is likely to be represented by a joint secretary from the external affairs ministry, he said.
India participated in the second meeting under the Moscow Format in November 2018 at a “non-official level”, sending retired ambassadors TCA Raghavan and Amar Sinha to represent the country. That meeting was attended by a five-member Taliban delegation led by Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, a key player in the group’s political office in Qatar and the current deputy foreign minister.
Stanekzai also met India’s ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, at the Indian embassy in Doha on August 31, the first officially acknowledged contact between the two sides.
The Moscow Format was launched in 2017 as a six-party mechanism for consultations between representatives of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and Russia. Russia also started the “extended troika” dialogue on Afghanistan that includes the US, China and Pakistan.
This will be the first meeting of the Moscow Format since the Taliban takeover of Kabul. Russia and the Central Asian states have concerns about terrorism and instability spilling over from Afghanistan. Russia is particularly concerned about the activities of Islamic State on Afghan soil.
The world community has mounted pressure on the Taliban to deliver on its commitments regarding human rights and counter-terrorism even as it tries to fashion a response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Bagchi didn’t give a direct response to a question on India providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan but reiterated New Delhi’s call for the world community to create the “best possible enabling environment”, including unimpeded and unrestricted access for aid providers and non-discriminatory distribution of aid.
“India’s policy towards Afghanistan is guided by our friendship with the Afghan people. We have in the past provided assistance both for infrastructure as well as humanitarian [needs],” he said.