Indian ambassador to Qatar meets senior Taliban leader in Doha
NEW DELHI: India’s ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, on Tuesday met a senior Taliban leader in Doha, the Indian Foreign Ministry said in the first-ever officially acknowledged meeting between the two sides.
“Today, Ambassador of India to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the Head of Taliban’s Political Office in Doha. The meeting took place at the Embassy of India, Doha, on the request of the Taliban side," the statement said.
Stanekzai, who is seen as a key member or the number two in the Taliban’s negotiating team, is ranked third overall among leaders based in Qatar. He is believed to have trained for several years at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun in the early 1980s. In recent days, Stanekzai has been seen as taking on a key role in foreign relations but he is not seen part of the decision-making team in Kabul.
“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 Indian foreign ministry 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 Indian statement said.
“The Taliban Representative assured the Ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed," the statement added.
The meeting between the two comes a fortnight after the Taliban took over Kabul on 15 August after a lightning sweep across the country. It also comes after the complete exit of the US-led international troops from Afghanistan. The last of the US troops left Afghanistan on Monday.
News reports last month said that New Delhi was in touch with the Taliban but there was no official confirmation from Indian foreign ministry officials. This was despite a senior official of Qatar – Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani – confirming that officials from New Delhi had met Taliban representatives in Doha.
New Delhi had previously been reluctant to be seen as engaging with the Pakistan backed Taliban, described many times as a terrorist group. A Pakistan backed Taliban in Kabul was seen as detrimental to Indian interests given that it would give Islamabad the edge of having a friendly administration in Afghanistan. When the Taliban was in control of Kabul between1996-2001, it was seen as sheltering terrorist groups targeting India like the Jaish –e Mohammed and the Lashkar e Toiba.
India’s contacts with the Taliban come in the wake of countries like Iran, Russia and China besides the US and the UK establishing channels of communication with the hardline Pashtun dominated group in recent years. India, Iran and Russia were the main backers of an anti-Taliban alliance between 1996-2001 headed by Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Masood. Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia were the main backers of the Taliban at that time.
With the US signing a pact with the Taliban in February 2020 and pulling out of Afghanistan on Monday at the end of a two decade long stay, the international community is seen as coming round to acknowledging the group as the dominant section in any future governance structure in Afghanistan. This is something that New Delhi also seems to be acknowledging.
“According to the Ministry, the request to meet came from the Taliban side and it wouldn’t have made sense not to respond," said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal who noted that Stanekzai had recently made some positive comments vis a vis India.
The reference was to Stanekzai saying in a speech over the weekend that “India is very important for this subcontinent. We want to continue our cultural, economic and trade ties with India like in the past" – among other things.
With the US leaving Afghanistan, “India has no choice but to deal with the Taliban," Sibal said adding that the “contact that has been made is for pragmatic reasons."
“It does not amount to establishment of normal relations or reopening of embassy as conditions for doing business with the new government in Kabul is outlined in the UNSC statement," he said pointing to references to abstain from reprisals and allowing Afghan women their rights in a resolution passed overnight Tuesday by the Security Council.
“As a first step this is pragmatic and necessary to protect our national interest," Sibal said adding that there was “some way to go before India and others decide when to establish normal relations with a new government in Kabul."
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First India-Taliban meet takes place in Doha, discussions held over safety of Indian nationals
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.
ALSO READ | We want to maintain Afghanistan’s trade, political ties with India: Taliban leader
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.
ALSO READ | Pak NSA says West risks another 9/11 if Taliban isn’t recognised, backtracks later
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.
India holds first formal meeting with Taliban in Qatar
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.