Source: The Pioneer (PNS)
Indian envoy to Qatar, Taliban leader discuss safety, security, early return of Indians in Af
India on Tuesday established its first formal contact with the Taliban dispensation and discussed safety, security and early return of the Indian citizens stranded in Afghanistan. Indian Ambassador to Qatar Deepak Mittal and Taliban’s representative Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai held the discussion in the Indian embassy in Doha, Qatar’s capital city.
Sources said the new rulers of Afghanistan had requested for the meeting.
This is seen as a major development since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan more than a fortnight back. Fearing for the safety of its diplomatic staff and Indian citizens, the Government evacuated more than 600 people, including the Ambassador to Afghanistan, in the last few days, but hundreds of others are still stranded there.
Given the current situation there, India had so far maintained it was too early to engage with the Taliban. When asked about reaching out to the Taliban, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said last week after the all-party meeting that “You will have to keep patience. Let the situation settle down.”
In response to a query about the possibility of recognising the Taliban regime, the External Affairs Ministry later said it will be “jumping the gun”.
Incidentally, Stanekzai trained as an army officer for nearly two years at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun in 1982 and is nicknamed “Sheru”. He is reportedly number two in the Taliban’s negotiating team and third overall among leaders based in Qatar. He is now playing a major role in projecting the Taliban’s image in foreign countries, besides forging ties with them.
Announcing the contact between the two sides, the Ministry of External Affairs said, “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.”
The Ministry said the Indian Ambassador reiterated the country’s stand that Afghanistan’s soil should not be used for anti-India activities and terrorism in any manner. The Taliban representative assured the Ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed.
Giving a hint about the Taliban’s attitude towards India, Stanekzai in a 40-minute video posted on the Taliban’s social media last week said the Taliban favour continuation of age-old ties, including political, economic and cultural, between India and Afghanistan.
“We want to continue our cultural, economic and trade ties with India like in the past,” Stanekzai said, adding “trade with India through Pakistan is very important for us. With India, trade through air corridors will also remain open.”
These remarks on Saturday last were the first ever by the top Taliban leadership since it took control of the country on August 15.
In a related development, a high-level group comprising among others Jiashankar and National Security Advisor(NSA) Ajit Doval are now concentrating on safeguarding the Indian interests and its citizens. The high-powered group including officials from various Ministries was formed at the directions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sources said here on Tuesday.
This group for the past few days is engaged in ensuring the safe evacuation of the stranded Indians there and that Afghanistan is not used in any manner for terrorism directed against India.
Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat is also likely to hold a meeting shortly with the three Services chiefs to review the fast-changing situation in Afghanistan and its security implications for India.