India sends diplomats to Kabul for talks with the Taliban

New Delhi commits to sending more foodgrains, medical aid

June 02, 2022 11:33 am | Updated 10:52 pm IST - New Delhi

Border Security Force and Customs officials flag off trucks carrying wheat from India as part of the humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, at the Attari-Wagah border between India and Pakistan, near Amritsar, on May 31, 2022

Border Security Force and Customs officials flag off trucks carrying wheat from India as part of the humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, at the Attari-Wagah border between India and Pakistan, near Amritsar, on May 31, 2022 | Photo Credit: PTI

​India has sent a multi-member team of senior diplomats to Afghanistan for the first time since the Indian Embassy in Kabul was evacuated in August 2021 following the arrival of the Taliban at the Afghan capital. During discussions with the Indian delegation held on Thursday, the Taliban urged India to reopen its embassy in Kabul, Suhail Shaheen, chief of the Taliban’s political office told The Hindu. The Indian team is being led by J.P. Singh, Joint Secretary, Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran division of the Ministry of External Affairs​​ (MEA).

“Post 15th of August, 2021, in the light of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, it was decided to bring back all India-based personnel. However, local staff continued to function and ensure proper maintenance and upkeep of our premises there. Our local staff have also been helping in the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” the MEA’s official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said during the weekly briefing, providing an update on the present condition of India’s diplomatic facilities in Kabul. The comment was made shortly before the Taliban’s representatives said that the two sides had discussed “diplomatic relations between India and Afghanistan”.

“The Taliban has asked the Indian delegation to reopen its diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan government is committed to providing a secure environment for its normal functioning,” Mr. Shaheen said, conveying the Taliban’s desire to normalise relations with India.

Mr. Bagchi, however, said the ongoing visit is solely focused on ensuring proper delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and did not amount to granting diplomatic recognition to the Taliban regime in Kabul.

Security for Indian personnel has been a matter of serious concern for New Delhi and Mr. Bagchi hinted that the ongoing visit got underway after the Taliban ensured proper security for Mr. Singh and his team. The Taliban has been hosting several international delegations from countries like Pakistan, the U.A.E., Iran, and others, but this is the first visit from the Indian side.

The Indian team visited the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, which has distributed India-made COVID-19 vaccines in the recent past. The team also visited the Habibia High School, which was renovated with assistance from the Government of India, and the Chimtala Electricity Sub-station, which was built by the Power Grid Corporation of India for electricity supply to Kabul. These initiatives were undertaken during the two decades of non-Taliban rule in Kabul that began in 2001 and ended with the flight of President Ashraf Ghani from Kabul last August. The Indian team included a woman official, which is being interpreted as a subtle reminder to the Taliban to ensure equitable treatment for women in Afghanistan.

The visit acquires significance as India has refused to recognise the Taliban administration in Afghanistan and has urged the international community to go slow in recognising the Taliban. As part of its cautious approach to the Taliban, India has been supportive of the humanitarian requirements of the Afghan people, and has been sending medicines and food to Kabul since earlier this year. The Indian delegation’s visit is the culmination of quiet engagement with the Taliban, which started soon after it provided indirect help in the evacuation of Indian officials from Kabul in August 2021. On August 31, 2021 the Indian Ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met with the chief of the Taliban’s political office, Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, in Doha, to ensure the safe return of Indian nationals stranded in Kabul.

According to the MEA, New Delhi has sent 20,000 metric tonnes of wheat, 13 tonnes of medicines, 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and winter clothing to Afghanistan. The humanitarian consignments were sent to the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, and were distributed with the help of multilateral organisations like the UN, the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme.

The MEA said that more foodgrains and medical shipments will be sent to Afghanistan in the coming months. It was also announced that India has sent one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Iran for distribution among Afghan refugees staying in Iran.

“India has historical and civilisational ties with the Afghan people and these long-standing linkages will continue to guide our approach,” an official statement declared.

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