Terror from Afghan soil key concern, says India
India has not spelt out its position on the Taliban since the group assumed power in Kabul on August 15, following the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government.
India stressed on Thursday that its main concern on Afghanistan was the use of Afghan soil for terrorism or “anti-India activities”, and said that it was too early to discuss any possible recognition of the new Taliban regime now in control in the country.
New Delhi’s position was outlined by external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi two days after India officially acknowledged a meeting with the Taliban in Doha. India is also focused on the evacuation of its nationals who are still in Afghanistan, Bagchi said.
Tuesday’s meeting between India’s envoy to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, and Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, has given rise to questions on whether New Delhi has softened its position on the Taliban and could be considering the recognition of any new set-up created by the group in Kabul.
At a regular news briefing, Bagchi ducked all questions on whether India still perceives the Taliban as a terror group and on recognising any government formed by the group, and said: “Our main concern, one of the primary, immediate concerns is that Afghan soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities or terrorism against India. That is one of our main issues.”
India’s focus is not on whether the Taliban is a terror organisation, and “the focus, let me reiterate, is that Afghan soil should not be used for terrorist activities of any kind or [for] anti-India activities and we will try to focus on that element”, Bagchi said.
The Indian side has seen reports about the formation of a government by the Taliban, but has no details regarding the nature of this dispensation, Bagchi said. He said there was “no update” on any invitation being extended to India to participate in the inauguration of such a government.
Setting aside questions about recognising a Taliban government, he said, “Let’s just treat the Doha meeting for what it is – it is just a meeting and I think these are still very early days.”
India used the meeting in Doha as an opportunity to convey its concerns, including evacuation of its nationals and terrorism, and “received a positive response” from the Taliban side, he added.
In response to a question on why the Taliban had not publicly acknowledged the Doha meeting, which was held at the group’s request, and why there were no photographs of the interaction, Bagchi said: “I think it just didn’t happen, it’s just a meeting, it wasn’t really that kind of an event where photos are taken. I don’t think there’s any thought behind it [that] we don’t have a photo of it. I think neither side took a photo.”
Bagchi sidestepped a query on whether India has a road map for further engagements with the Taliban by saying: “We wouldn’t have done anything without giving it some thought. Let’s see how things move.”
As reported by HT, the Indian side opened channels of communication with specific Taliban factions and leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, last year. However, Tuesday’s meeting in Doha was the first time New Delhi has officially acknowledged an interaction with the Taliban.
The triumphant return of the Taliban has triggered concerns that the group’s victory could re-energise jihadi groups across South Asia, particularly anti-India terror organisations based in Pakistan, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. In a message congratulating the Taliban, al-Qaeda has called for the “liberation” of Kashmir.
India has not spelt out its position on the Taliban since the group assumed power in Kabul on August 15, following the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government. Over the past few days, Stanekzai and senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani have been engaged in an outreach towards India.
The US completed the drawdown of its forces from Afghanistan on August 30, though secretary of state Antony Blinken has said Washington will remain focused on counter-terrorism and holding the Taliban accountable to its commitments in this regard.
Bagchi also said India is prioritising the evacuation of Indian nationals and some Afghans, though this issue is linked to the resumption of operations at Kabul airport. “We will have to revisit this issue when the airport is operational, we will have to wait for that. There is no clarity now,” he said.
He declined to give a number for the Indian nationals still in Afghanistan, but said the “vast majority” of citizens who wanted to leave had already returned home. “There are very few Indians left, we are in touch with them,” he said.
Asked about the status of Afghan nationals coming to India, he said the emergency e-visas being issued since August 16 were valid for six months. Other Afghans who were already in India had had their visas automatically extended during the pandemic, and internal discussions were ongoing on other “specific issues”, he said.