With most Indians now evacuated from Afghanistan, the Government of India said its “primary and immediate” concern was to curb any terrorism threat to India emanating from Afghanistan under the Taliban-led regime.
Responding to questions on the reasoning and nature of the Indian Ambassador to Qatar’s meeting with the Taliban political office chief in Doha, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) repeated that the meeting had been requested at the behest of the Taliban, and would neither confirm nor deny whether India still considers the group a terrorist organisation.
“Let us just treat the Doha meeting for what it is... it’s just a meeting . These are very early days,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, when asked if India could consider recognising the Taliban government which, officials said, was likely to be announced soon.
“We used the opportunity to convey our concerns, whether it was on getting people out [from Afghanistan], or on anti-Indian terror related activities. We received a positive response,” he stated.
The Haqqani issue
Mr. Bagchi, however, did not reply to a question about the Haqqani group, which is among the United Nations’ designated entities as a terror group and a key member of the Taliban.
Deputy leader of the Taliban Sirajuddin Haqqani is wanted for a number of attacks on the Indian embassy and consulates in Afghanistan, including a suicide bombing in 2008 in which Indian diplomats were among 58 people killed, and the attack on Kabul’s Gurdwara Har Rai Saheb in 2020, in which 25 people were killed, where the Haqqani network is believed to have collaborated with the Islamic State- Khorasan (IS-K), according to Afghan intelligence agency NDS at the time.
While India’s main interlocutor in the Taliban, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, who had sought the meeting with Indian Ambassador to Qatar Deepak Mittal on Tuesday, is slated to be the foreign minister of the new Afghan government, New Delhi will watch with concern the role that will be played by the Haqqani leadership.
When asked why the Taliban had asked for the meeting at all, Mr. Bagchi said he “presumed that the Taliban wanted to reach out to all countries who have interests, and are relevant”. “Without thinking, we would not have taken such a step [meeting the Taliban]. Our main, primary and immediate concern is that the Afghan soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities or terror activities. This is our focus,” he asserted.
Mr. Bagchi told journalists at the MEA’s weekly media briefing that very few Indians now remained to be evacuated from Afghanistan, and the 24x7 Afghanistan special cell was in touch with them. However, flying them out would depend on the resumption of flights from Kabul, and concerns were raised about them in the Doha meeting.
No Taliban announcement
The Stanekzai-Mittal discussions in Doha raised several other questions, as the announcement of the meeting has only been made by Delhi despite the Taliban reportedly requesting the meeting. Since Tuesday, Taliban spokesperson Muhammad Naeem Wardak has issued tweets on a number of other engagements, including the Taliban’s political office meeting diplomats from Canada, China, the Netherlands and Turkey, but has given no intimation of the meeting with India.
“That is up to them, and I would refer you to the [Taliban] for answers,” Mr. Bagchi said, adding that there had been no particular “thought” behind the fact no photograph of the event had been recorded.