In a major step towards re-establishing its presence in Afghanistan, India sent a “technical team” of officials to be based in Kabul, reopening its Embassy on Thursday. India also sent its first consignment of earthquake relief assistance to Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 Afghans have been killed in an earthquake outside the city of Khost. The MEA said the assistance was handed over by the Indian team that travelled aboard an Indian Air Force Ilyushin-76 aircraft, in the first such military, non-commercial transportation since last year.
The move to reopen the embassy, that comes more than ten months after the government shut down the Indian embassy, and pulled out all Indian personnel after the Ghani government fell, marks a reversal of the government’s policy on engaging the Taliban, and comes a few weeks after a team headed by senior MEA official J.P. Singh travelled to Kabul to meet with the Taliban-appointed acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mottaqi and acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, and received specific assurances on security for the deployment. The Indian embassy will become the 15th mission to be open in Kabul with staff deployed there under the Taliban regime, along with Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, European Union and four Central Asian states. The U.S. has delegated its diplomatic functions to the Qatari embassy there.
“In order to closely monitor and coordinate the efforts of various stakeholders for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and in continuation of our engagement with the Afghan people, an Indian technical team has reached Kabul today and has been deployed in our Embassy there,” the MEA said in an announcement, citing India’s “historical and civilizational relationship with the Afghan people” as the reason for the decision.
As The Hindu had reported last week, plans for the team to be based in Kabul had to be reviewed after the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) attack on a gurdwara there, which specifically targeted Indian interests. Sources told The Hindu that the team led by a Director-level diplomat based in the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi was finalised and expected to travel to Kabul in mid-June, but the government decided to review the situation after the June 18 terror attack on Gurdwara Kart-e-Parwan in which two people were killed.
According to the sources, a reconstituted team, comprising security and engineering personnel has now been sent to Kabul with the purpose of setting up consular and visa arrangements, the distribution of humanitarian assistances, as well as to oversee the maintenance and restart of various development projects Indian companies had undertaken in Afghanistan.
No country has recognised the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which took power by force in Kabul on August 15, ousting the democratically elected government of President Ashraf Ghani. However, the opening of the embassy is a step towards working more closely with the Taliban regime, officials said, particularly as India worries about the impact of terrorist groups, drug trade and migration on the region.
In a statement at last month’s regional meeting of Security officials on Afghanistan, NSA Ajit Doval had marked the shift in India’s perception of the Taliban as a terror group, to a quasi-official entity, when he said that regional countries must “enhance the capability of Afghanistan to counter terrorism and terrorist groups which pose a threat to regional peace and security.”
“Our long-standing links with Afghan society and our development partnership including humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan, will continue to guide our approach going forward,” the MEA said on Thursday, in remarks echoing Mr. Doval’s comments at the meeting in Dushanbe.
Since India closed its embassy last August, the embassy has been maintained by local staff, and all pre-existing visas were cancelled and routed through a much delayed “e-visa” system.