MEA faces tough choice as Taliban pick a new Ambassador for Delhi 

Tussle inside the Afghan Embassy goes public as embassy staffers refuse to accept the Taliban appointee 

May 15, 2023 11:13 am | Updated 10:26 pm IST - NEW DELHI

File picture of the Afghanistan Embassy in New Delhi

File picture of the Afghanistan Embassy in New Delhi | Photo Credit: Afghan Embassy

The Taliban regime’s decision to recall Afghan Ambassador Farid Mamundzay and appoint current Trade Counsellor Qadir Shah as the chargé d’affaires (Acting Ambassador) in his place has posed a tough decision for the government on the situation in Afghanistan and its engagement with the Taliban.

While rejecting the Taliban regime’s appointment could see repercussions for India’s “technical mission” in Kabul, accepting the Taliban’s appointee would be seen as handing over the embassy in Delhi to the insurgent group that took power in Kabul in 2021, but has not received recognition from any country so far.

While most countries where Afghanistan ran missions have refused to accede to the Taliban appointments, Russia, China, Pakistan, the Central Asian states and Iran have allowed the Taliban-appointed diplomats to run the missions, and even raise the Taliban or “Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan” (IEA) flag rather than that of the democratically elected previous ”Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” . 

The tussle between the two became public on Sunday, after Afghan media outlets published a letter from Afghans based in India accusing the existing Ambassador and other officials of corruption.

In response, Mr. Mamundzay, who has been the Ambassador since 2020 and is presently in Delhi, issued a letter calling the allegations “one-sided, biased and untruthful”. He blamed the “collapse of the democratic system” in Afghanistan for the “extreme problems” that Afghans face today. In a statement issued on Monday, the Afghan Embassy also “categorically rejected” the claims of Mr. Shah to take charge of the mission. 

Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that trouble has been brewing within the embassy over the past month after the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)’s Human Resources Director issued a letter (Order No. 3578 dated April 25, 2023), recalling Mr. Mamundzay and asking him to report to the MFA in Kabul.

Another order on the same date by Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said that Trade Counsellor Qadir Shah would “supervise affairs at the Afghanistan Embassy in Delhi, India” and report to the government in Kabul. The move appeared to mirror what the Taliban did in China in April 2022, when the serving Ambassador resigned after the Taliban appointed another senior diplomat serving in the embassy in Beijing. 

File picture of Afghanistan Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay

File picture of Afghanistan Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay | Photo Credit: Twitter/@FMamundzay

Matters came to a head as Mr. Shah attempted to assume office as the chargé d’affaires but the move was resisted by other embassy staffers. He has since been not allowed inside the embassy.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mamundzay, who returned from London on May 1, is in the Ambassador’s office, and has met with officials from the External Affairs Ministry to explain the position, the sources said.

When contacted, Mr. Shah, who had written a note verbale to the External Affairs Ministry on May 28 requesting facilitation as the new chargé d’affaires, said he was not affiliated to any “political party, group or movement”. He said he believed that in its communication the MFA in Kabul had wished to appoint an officer to resolve issues of “complaints against embassy officials of corruption and non-performance of their official duties”.

The External Affairs Ministry declined to comment on the Taliban decision, with officials suggesting that this was an “internal” matter for the embassy to resolve. However, its decision not to take a side indicates a softening towards the Taliban from the past, when it fully supported the embassy representing the erstwhile “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”. The Ministry also declined to respond to a specific question on whether it would allow the Taliban flag to be raised at the embassy. Another worry for diplomats, sources said, is that a Taliban-appointed Ambassador could take action against those diplomats or their families who did not pledge loyalty to the Taliban. 

While India, like all other countries, does not recognise the Taliban regime, the government, in a major U-turn last year, decided to set up a “technical mission” in Kabul.

Officials from the External Affairs Ministry have also travelled to Kabul and met Taliban Ministers. India has transferred food and medical aid, and Taliban officials have been trained in online courses run by the Indian government.

Accepting the Taliban’s desire to change the Afghan Ambassador would be seen as one step further towards formalising its ties with the insurgent group that India has accused in the past of carrying out terror attacks, including the 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in which an Indian diplomat and two ITBP security force personnel were killed.  

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