India holds first formal talks with the Taliban in Qatar

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Taliban members gather and make speeches in front of Herat governorate after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, in Herat, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021. Mir Ahmad Firooz Mashoof | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

India announced its first formal diplomatic meeting with the Taliban on Tuesday — their first official talks since the group seized power in Afghanistan as the U.S. withdrew its forces from there. The Indian foreign ministry said India’s ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met with the head of the Taliban’s political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai. The Taliban had requested the meeting, which took place at the Indian embassy in Doha, according to the ministry. Mittal and Stanikzai discussed the safety, security and early return of Indian nationals who are stranded in Afghanistan as well as travel prospects for Afghan minorities who want to visit India, the Ministry of External Affairs said. The Indian ambassador also raised New Delhi’s concerns around Afghanistan being used as a base for terrorism. “The Taliban Representative assured the Ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed,” the foreign ministry said.

For the foreseeable future, it would largely be an engagement to assess where Taliban might be going with their agenda Harsh Pant Observer Research Foundation

Days before Tuesday’s meeting, Indian media reported that Stanikzai said the Taliban wanted to continue Afghanistan’s political, economic and cultural ties with India. It was reportedly the first time a member of the Taliban leadership spoke about the future of India-Afghanistan relations since the group captured Kabul. The Taliban’s return to power would likely impact Afghanistan’s neighbors, amid rising concerns of regional instability, refugee inflows and the prospect of Afghanistan becoming a haven for terrorist activities again. New Delhi did not have diplomatic relations with the Taliban when they were last in power in the 1990s, in part because of the militant group’s ties to Pakistan. But India had forged close ties with the U.S.-backed civilian government in Kabul over the last two decades and provided Afghanistan with development assistance. Reports said that India has invested $3 billion in multiple infrastructure and trade projects and has undertaken over 400 projects in Afghanistan. Analysts say India’s commitments and the recent shift in power has left New Delhi in a tough strategic state.

India’s meeting with the Taliban was a “necessity” that was in some ways dictated by the evolving political realities in Afghanistan, said Harsh Pant, head of the strategic studies program at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “There is a practical necessity of engaging with the Taliban given that it would be one of the most — if not the most — important political stakeholder in Afghanistan,” Pant told CNBC. “Outreach at lower levels had already begun but this is the first official, explicitly-stated Indian outreach to the Taliban.”

India holds first formal meeting with Taliban in Qatar

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The Indian ambassador to Qatar met with the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, India’s foreign ministry says.

India’s ambassador to Qatar has held talks with a top Taliban leader, the Indian foreign ministry said, the first formal diplomatic engagement since the group took over Afghanistan.

The envoy, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban’s political office, in Doha on Tuesday at the request of the Taliban, the foreign ministry said.

India has long had concerns about the Taliban because of the group’s close ties to archrival Pakistan. The foreign ministry said the two sides discussed the safety of Indians left behind in Afghanistan.

Mittal also conveyed India’s fears that anti-India fighters could use Afghanistan’s soil to mount attacks, the foreign ministry said.

“The Taliban representative assured the ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed,” the foreign ministry said.

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 Indian envoy.

India invested more than $3bn in development work in Afghanistan and had built close ties with the United States-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 group.

In June, informal contacts were established with Taliban political leaders in Doha, government sources told Reuters news agency. The big fear is that armed groups fighting Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir will become emboldened with the victory of the Taliban over foreign forces, one of the sources 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 foreign ministry said.

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.

Stanekzai, who Indian officials say received training in an Indian military academy as an Afghan officer in the 1980s, had informally reached out to India last month, asking it not to shut down its embassy, the source said.

First India-Taliban meet takes place in Doha, discussions held over safety of Indian nationals

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Ambassador of India to Qatar, Deepak Mittal (R) met head of Taliban’s political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai (L), in Doha on Tuesday. (File photos)

Indian Ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met head of Taliban’s political office Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai in Doha on Tuesday and held discussions on safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan.

The meeting took place at the Embassy of India, Doha, on the request of the Taliban side, an official statement 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 to India also came up,” the statement said.

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The Indian ambassador 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 statement added.

Taliban want ‘good ties’ with India

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told India Today on Monday that India is an important country in the region and the new regime in Afghanistan will not be a threat to them.

In an exclusive interview, Zabihullah Mujahid recounted India’s good relations with Afghanistan and said the new government formed under the Taliban would want good relations with India.

Asked about reports suggesting the Taliban siding with Pakistan against India, Zabihullah Mujahid said such reports were baseless. " The Taliban won’t allow any other country to be endangered by us. We assure India that our side will not be a threat to them," he said.

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In a statement on August 26, Zabihullah Mujahid had said that the Taliban see Pakistan as their “second home”. “Afghanistan shares its borders with Pakistan. We are traditionally aligned when it comes to religion; the people of both countries mingle with each other. So we are looking forward to further deepening of ties with Pakistan,” Zabihullah Mujahid had said in an interview with Pakistan’s ARY News.

Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban want countries to have their embassies in Afghanistan. “The presence of ambassadors in Afghanistan is beneficial. We want all countries to have good relations with us,” he said.