File photo: HT had first reported on June 8 that India has opened channels of communication with Afghan Taliban factions and leaders. (Reuters)
File photo: HT had first reported on June 8 that India has opened channels of communication with Afghan Taliban factions and leaders. (Reuters)

Senior Qatari diplomat says Indian officials engaged in talks with Taliban

Al-Qahtani is the Special Envoy of Qatar’s foreign minister for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution.
UPDATED ON JUN 22, 2021 12:10 AM IST

A senior Qatari diplomat, involved in the Afghan peace process, said on Monday that Indian officials were engaged in talks with the Taliban, confirming a development first reported by Hindustan Times.

Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, who is the Special Envoy of Qatar’s foreign minister for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution, told the webinar that he believed the Indian side was engaging with the Taliban as the group is seen as a “key component” in any future government in Afghanistan.

HT had first reported on June 8 that India has opened channels of communication with Afghan Taliban factions and leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, against the backdrop of the rapid drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan. The move marked a significant shift from New Delhi’s position of not engaging with the Taliban in any way.

Al-Qahtani, who was participating in a virtual discussion organised by the Arab Center Washington DC on the theme “Looking towards peace in Afghanistan after the US-NATO withdrawal”, made the remarks while answering a question from an Indian journalist on Qatar’s perception of India’s role in the Afghan peace process.

“I understand that there has been a quiet visit by Indian officials...to speak with the Talibans. Why? Because not everybody is believing that the Taliban will dominate and take over, because Taliban is a key component of, or should be or is going to be a key component of the future of Afghanistan,” Al-Qahtani said during a webinar, without giving details.

“So, I see the reason behind having a dialogue or talks or reaching out to all parties in Afghanistan but it’s important to keep in mind that we are in a critical stage at this time, and I think if any meeting is going to take place, it should be for a major or main reason, which is to encourage the parties to solve their differences by peaceful means,” he added.

Al-Qahtani said it was a “golden opportunity” for all stakeholders to take advantage of efforts to usher in peace in Afghanistan. He further said, “Otherwise, nobody is going to recognise – at least as far as Qatar is concerned we are not going to recognise any group or any system or any people who are going to take a country by force.”

Also read: As FATF begins plenary meeting, reports emerge of surge in Taliban fund-raising in Pakistan

Noting that Afghanistan “should not become a place for a proxy [war] among any countries”, he said it was in the interest of both India and Pakistan to have a more stable Afghanistan.

“We understand Pakistan is a neighbouring country, India is a country that...as far as we know, invested a lot economically in Afghanistan and they want Afghanistan to be more peaceful and stable,” he added.

The Indian outreach is largely being led by security officials and has been limited to Taliban factions and leaders perceived as being outside the sphere of influence of Pakistan and Iran. People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the first contacts with Mullah Baradar were established in Qatar, where the Taliban has a political office.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar made three transit halts in Doha, Qatar, during his recent visits to Kuwait and Kenya. During the first halt on June 9, Jaishankar met Qatari National Security Adviser Mohamed Bin Ahmed Al Mesned, shortly before al-Qahtani held separate meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators the same day.

During another transit halt on June 15, Jaishankar met Qatari foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and minister of state for defence Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiya. He also held talks with US special envoy Khalilzad and exchanged perspectives on Afghanistan and the region.

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