India mulling options over re-opening mission in Afghanistan

Many countries begin to discuss the possibility of re-staffing embassies in Kabul

Updated - December 01, 2021 01:05 pm IST

Published - December 01, 2021 01:28 am IST - NEW DELHI

As several countries including the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Japan and the European Union begin to discuss the possibility of re-staffing embassies in Kabul , New Delhi is considering its options on its presence in Afghanistan.

In November, the UAE re-started operations in Kabul which would add to the list of embassies that are open including Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Last month, Washington and Doha signed an agreement for the Qatari embassy in Kabul to represent the “diplomatic interests” of the U.S.

Presence on the ground

While recognition for the Taliban is still “far away” and not even being “remotely considered”, said officials, each of the countries still engaged with Afghanistan is taking a decision based on how best to cater to the needs of their relationship with the Afghan population. In particular, the trouble India has had with transiting aid through Pakistan, including “conditions” from the Imran Khan Government stipulating only Pakistani trucks will carry the Indian aid, and demanding that India must pay for the cartage, have reopened conversations about having a presence on the ground.

“Establishing a presence in Afghanistan has nothing to do with recognition. It simply means that you would like to have people on the ground dealing with the new regime, to continue engagement with the people,” said a senior official, who said the Modi Government is not convinced about the need to re-open its mission, but that discussions are continuing on what India’s strategy should be.

At present the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which was evacuated within two days of the Taliban taking control of the city on August 15, is locked and has not been ransacked or damaged, according to officials, and the “green zone”, where the Embassy is situated, is being guarded by the Taliban. India’s consulates in Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar were completely shut down and emptied out before the final evacuation.

According to officials, there are several options to re-staffing an Indian position there including posting a team in the well-secured U.N. compound, keeping local Afghan staff, or maintaining a small group of diplomats and security personnel at the embassy itself.

Former Ambassador to Afghanistan Amar Sinha advised some caution in re-staffing the embassy, given previous attacks on the missions there. He said India has always said it doesn’t have an “exit policy” from Afghanistan.

“We have to deal with the world as it is rather than what we want it to be. Any presence on the ground will have to be thought through in terms of what we wish to achieve and how the personnel will be secured,” he told The Hindu .

Former Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who was Ambassador to Afghanistan decades ago, called for India to re-open its diplomatic presence. “Unquestionably, yes, we should re-open our embassy as quickly as possible. We are already in contact with the Taliban in Doha, and Moscow, and so this is a formality,” he said in an interview to The Wire on Tuesday.

Much, say officials, will depend on what India’s other partners and friendly countries choose to do. Over the weekend, European Union (E.U.) officials led by Special Envoy for Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson held talks with Taliban acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Motaqi in Doha, where the two sides discussed how best to provide food, medical and monetary assistance to Afghans who are facing a bitter winter and severe malnutrition.

A minimal presence

“The E.U. delegation underlined that the possibility of establishing a minimal presence on the ground in Kabul, which would not entail recognition, will directly depend on the security situation and on effective decisions by the de facto authorities to allow it to ensure adequate protection of its staff and premises,” said the E.U. It said the Taliban delegation had promised to accord them all rights and privileges under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The E.U. already has humanitarian staff present in Kabul and has increased its assistance to €300 million to “help mitigate the worsening humanitarian crisis”, Mr. Niklasson told The Hindu .

During a four-day high-level engagement by Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan Takashi Okada last week, Taliban acting Deputy PM Abdul Ghani Baradar said he had asked Tokyo to reopen its embassy and promised all facilitation required. The Japanese Foreign Ministry said the Government is considering the option of resuming Embassy functions with only local staff, but has not fixed a date yet, according to Japan Times .

Others may follow suit, maintaining either a skeletal local staff at their mission premises or appointing a liaison to continue essential diplomatic services, all of which would be closely followed in New Delhi.

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