Taliban, Indian envoy hold first formal talks in Doha

By: News Desk      Published: 07:51 AM, 1 Sep, 2021
Taliban, Indian envoy hold first formal talks in Doha
Head of the Taliban’s political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai.

In signs that India has altered its stance on the Taliban, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has announced that its Ambassador to Qatar Deepak Mittal met with the head of the Taliban’s political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, on Tuesday.

While Indian security officials and diplomats are understood to have engaged with Taliban representatives for several months, this is the first time the Indian government has publicly acknowledged such a meeting which, the ministry said, came at the request of the Taliban.

Indian officials told The Hindu that the request came as Taliban leaders have been keen to receive some “acceptability”, and that India remains “cautious” about its approach to the group.

“Discussions focused on safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan. The travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities, who wish to visit to India also came up,” a statement issued by the Indian ministry said, adding that Mr Mittal said India’s concern was that “Afghanistan’s soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner.”

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About 140 Indians and members of the Sikh minority still remain in Kabul, and need to be brought back. India has thus far transported 565 people, including 112 Afghan nationals to Delhi. The numbers have been far lower than other countries like the US, which has evacuated 122,000 people, including more than 100,000 Afghan nationals, in some measure due to the fact that the government has security concerns and is strictly regulating any visas, and in some measure as it is unable to ensure the safe evacuation of people wishing to travel.

According to the ministry’s statement, the Taliban leader assured the Indian ambassador that all the issues would be “positively addressed”. Stanekzai, who trained and graduated out of the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun, made a statement on Saturday calling for India to continue its political and trade ties with Afghanistan, and pursue connectivity projects.

In the last few months, however, the Indian ministry had said it was in touch with “various stakeholders” in Afghanistan, not denying that the Taliban were one of them, and Indian officials have met with Taliban representatives in Doha.

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In June, one such meeting was confirmed by Qatari special envoy for reconciliation Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani. After the Taliban takeover of Kabul, when India decided to pull out all embassy staff, they were stopped from leaving for the airport by gunmen guarding the city, and the government had to open its channels to the Taliban to secure their release.

The talks come days after Stanekzai was quoted in the local press as saying that the Taliban wanted political and economic ties with India.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban on the talks with the Indians.

India invested more than $3 billion in development work in Afghanistan and had built close ties with the US-backed Kabul government. But with the rapid advance of the Taliban, the Indian government was facing criticism at home for not opening a channel of communication to the militants.

When the Taliban were last in power from 1996-2001, India along with Russia and Iran supported the Northern Alliance that pursued armed resistance against them.