Two months after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, New Delhi is planning to engage regional powers on the future of Afghanistan. It is sending an official team to attend the Moscow process of talks on October 20 that will include the Taliban government’s Deputy Prime Minister. New Delhi has also invited regional National Security Advisers to Delhi for a meeting in November, including Pakistan's NSA Moeed Yusuf, in a rare departure from otherwise bitter bilateral ties.
According to sources, New Delhi has reached out to countries that participated in the Iran-plus six-nation “Regional Security Dialogue” in Tehran- Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan for the meeting to be chaired by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. A Pakistani official confirmed receiving the invitation, but said a decision on participation was yet to be taken.
The invitation to Pakistan for a multilateral format meeting follows weeks after a three-member Indian delegation participated in the Regional Anti-Terror Mechanism meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO-RATS) in Pakistan’s Pabbi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
In another development, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla included Pakistan’s Senate Chairperson in an invitation to parliamentary leaders of Commonwealth nations for the centennial celebration of the creation of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament in early December. According to a number of verified reports, which the government has not denied, Mr. Doval has led a series of back-channel consultations with Pakistani military and security officials over the past year.
A senior official told The Hindu that the invite to Pakistan comes amidst pressing need for discussions on terrorism and trans-national security emanating from the developments in Afghanistan and a surge in violent attacks inside that country, including two suicide bombings of mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar.
In addition, India wants to ensure that the issue of recognition of the Taliban government, which Pakistan has been pressing for, is only decided after the Taliban government gives assurances on terrorism, inclusivity in government and rights of women and minorities.
The Indian initiative, which comes after close consultations with Moscow, is significant given that thus far, the government has not announced any monetary or food aid for Afghanistan. Nor has it opened the door for Afghan refugees to India since the Taliban takeover.
Modi for global aid
However, speaking at the G-20 extraordinary conference on October 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch for international assistance for Afghanistan.
“The Prime Minister conveyed that every Indian feels the pain of Afghan people facing hunger and malnutrition. He emphasised the need for the international community to ensure that Afghanistan has immediate and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance,” an Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement said.
The MEA has confirmed that India will send a senior official to the Moscow format conference on Wednesday, which includes delegations from Afghanistan, India, Iran, China and Pakistan. Taliban officials announced that a delegation led by its Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi would attend the meeting.
The Moscow meet will be the first time India is sending an official to attend a conference that includes the Taliban, after the fall of Kabul on August 15. The acceptance is significant because the SAARC Foreign Minister’s conference, due to be held in September on the sidelines of the UNGA this year, was put off, reportedly due to India’s objections to Pakistan’s demand to allow a Taliban representative attend the meeting on Afghanistan’s behalf.
Although no foreign government has recognised the Taliban as the official government, several, including India are in talks with them, mainly through their political office in Doha, while at least six nations, including Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Qatar maintain embassies in Kabul.
Mr. Hanafi will travel to Moscow next week, and went on a one-day trip to Uzbekistan on Saturday to “discuss trade and transit relations”, Taliban’s Deputy Minister for Information and Broadcasting Zabihullah Mujahid said in tweets.