India established its first formal contact with the Taliban hours after the last US military aircraft flew out of Kabul to mark the end of its 20-year war in Afghanistan when its envoy to Qatar visited the head of the Taliban political office in Doha on Tuesday.
The Ministry of External Affairs announced the meeting in a statement, saying, “Today, Ambassador of India to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, visited Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of Taliban’s Political Office in Doha.” The meeting was held at the invitation of the Taliban at the Indian Embassy in Doha.”
“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 India also came up,” it said.“Ambassador Mittal raised India’s concern that Afghanistan’s soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner. The Taliban representative assured the Ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed,” the MEA said.
Mittal served as the MEA’s Joint Secretary (Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran) before handing up the reins to J P Singh in 2020. Rudrendra Tandon, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, was also JS (PAI) before Mittal.
Singh, Tandon, and Mittal have played critical roles in determining India’s approach to the situation in Afghanistan.
Mittal followed Singh to many meetings in Doha, where they had just visited Afghanistan’s leader Abdullah Abdullah before Kabul was taken over by the Taliban on August 15. The meeting between Mittal and Stanekzai was the first publicized after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, noting the evolving situation in Afghanistan, directed that a high-level group comprised of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and senior officials focus on India’s immediate priorities.
According to sources, this group, which has been meeting regularly in recent days, is “concerned with issues pertaining to the safe return of stranded Indians, the travel of Afghan nationals (especially minorities) to India, and ensuring that Afghanistan’s territory is not used in any way for terrorism directed against India.”
The organization has also been watching the ground situation in Afghanistan as well as foreign reactions, including the resolution voted by the UN Security Council early Tuesday.
The meeting in Doha came as a result of Stanekzai’s comments over the weekend. He stated that India is “very essential for this subcontinent,” and that his party wishes to maintain Afghanistan’s “cultural,” “economic,” “political,” and “trade ties” with India “as they have in the past.”
Given that Pakistan controls the Taliban’s levers and has always characterized India’s ties with Afghanistan as a “negative” influence, this is crucial. It is also the first definite remark made towards India by a top Taliban official since the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15.
The Indian Express reported last Sunday that the United Nations Security Council, with India as its president for the month of August, removed a reference to the Taliban from a phrase in a statement encouraging Afghan organizations not to assist terrorists “operating on the territory of any other nation.”
South Block, which is closely monitoring these comments, believes this is the Taliban’s first approach to India since the organization took control. A careful Delhi, on the other hand, would wait for evidence of Taliban behavior on the ground in Afghanistan, particularly the Taliban’s treatment of Afghans who have cooperated with India.
Officials have stated that the Taliban cooperated in arranging a safe route for the evacuation of Indian diplomats and nationals, as well as Afghans, from Kabul.
(The Indian Express)