Two days after India’s envoy to Qatar held talks with a top Taliban leader in Doha, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that New Delhi’s immediate focus is to ensure that Afghan soil is not used for terrorist activities directed against the country.
India had used the meeting in Doha to convey this concern, and to discuss the return of the Indians who still remain in Afghanistan, MEA official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday.
“We received a positive response,” Bagchi said, referring to the meeting between India’s Ambassador to Qatar Deepak Mittal and the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai.
New Delhi made this first official contact with the Taliban on Tuesday, hours after the last US military aircraft flew out of Kabul, marking the end of the 20-year war.
Taliban soldiers are seen at one of the main city squares of Kabul, Afghanistan, September 1, 2021. (Reuters)
In response to a volley of questions on whether India would recognise the Taliban regime in the backdrop of the meeting, Bagchi said: “It was just a meeting. I think these are very early days.”
Asked if India would have more meetings with the Taliban, the spokesperson said he did not want to speculate. “I would not like to speculate on the future. I have no update to share on that,” he said.
On bringing back the remaining Indians from Afghanistan, Bagchi said India would be able to revisit the matter once the airport in Kabul resumes operations.
In a statement on the meeting in Doha, the MEA had said earlier this week that Mittal and Stanekzai had met at the Indian Embassy on the request of the Taliban side.
“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 statement 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.”
Mittal was Joint Secretary (Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran) in the MEA until last year. India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Rudrendra Tandon, was JS (PAI) before Mittal.
The two Ambassadors have been playing a key role, along with Mittal’s successor as JS (PAI), J P Singh, in shaping the Indian response to the situation in Afghanistan.
Mittal and Singh met Afghanistan leader Abdullah Abdullah in Doha in the days before Kabul fell on August 15. Abdullah, a former Chief Executive of Afghanistan and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, is believed to be in talks with the Taliban for a role in the new government.
The meeting between Mittal and Stanekzai took place after Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed that a high-level group comprising External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, along with senior officials, should focus on India’s immediate priorities.
Over the weekend prior to the meeting, Stanekzai had said that India was “very important for this subcontinent”, and that the Taliban regime would like to continue Afghanistan’s “cultural”, “economic”, “political”, and “trade ties” with India “like in the past”.
Back in 1996, when Stanekzai was deputy foreign minister after the first takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, he had made similar statements. India had neither met nor responded to him at the time.
Over the last two weeks, Taliban spokespersons Suhail Shaheen and Zabiullah Mujahid too have spoken on relations with India.