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June 24, 2021

India makes overtures to Taliban

DOHA: Indian officials have met and held discussions with the Taliban representatives in Doha ahead of complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Qatar’s special envoy for mediation Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani confirmed earlier this week, foreign media outlets reported. While it was already known that New Delhi has communicated with the militia in the past, this is the first time a senior Qatari official has confirmed that a direct meeting has taken place between the two sides, according to Indian media reports. The news comes just days after India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made quick stopovers in Doha on June 9 and June 15 when he met senior Qatari officials and Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy on Afghanistan.

During a webinar, Al Qahtani revealed this information in the first official acknowledgement of links between India and the Taliban.

In answer to a question from The Hindu about the role of India in the stalled Afghan peace process, Al Qahtani stated that it was a “very complicated question”.

“Afghanistan soil should not become a proxy for any countries. Yes, it is in the interest of Pakistan to have a more stable Afghanistan. It is in the interest of India to have a more stable Afghanistan. We understand Pakistan is a neighbouring country. India is the country that has done a lot of economically and of course they want Pakistan to be more peaceful and stable,” he said.

The Qatari official then noted that New Delhi has also reached out to the Taliban's political office in Doha. “I understand that there has been a quiet visit by Indian officials from India to speak with the Taliban. Why? Because not everyone believes that the Taliban will dominate and take over, but because the Taliban is a key component of future Afghanistan. So, I see the reason for having a dialogue or talks and reaching out to all parties in Afghanistan,” he stated.

He cautioned that since it was a “critical stage” in the Afghan peace process, if any meeting is taking place, “it should be for a main reason to encourage the parties to solve their differences by peaceful means”.

India’s official policy has been to not recognise the Taliban in any way, with the Afghan government accorded the recognition as the only legitimate stakeholder in the war-ravaged country.

“India has to be realistic. It has to come to terms with the reality that Taliban have an upper hand and they might actually come to power. Obviously New Delhi would want to protect its investments,” Ajit Singh, a New Delhi-based security analyst, told TRT World.

India has invested billions of dollars in Afghanistan as it seeks to strengthen its role in the war-torn country.

It remains unclear how significant were the discussions between the Taliban and Indian officials or if any senior officials participated.

Reacting to reports of a recent ‘quiet’ visit of Indian officials to Doha to speak with the Taliban’s political leadership, the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K) former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said, “If they can go to Doha and talk to the Taliban, they should have a dialogue with us and with Pakistan too in order to bring about a resolution.”

Mehbooba Mufti's remarks come days ahead of a key meeting of IIOJ&K political leaders with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Indian Congress, meanwhile, demanded repeal of JK Reorganisation Act 2019 and restoration of status quo ante in the occupied valley.

Status quo ante—return to the pre-August 5, 2019 position—is also what the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration has been seeking.

This means restoration of special status and full statehood.

Congress veteran and CWC member P Chidambaram on Monday said, “Congress Party’s position that full statehood must be restored to J&K should clear any doubt or ambiguity. What was made under the Constitution cannot be unmade by an Act of Parliament misinterpreting and misusing the provisions of the Constitution.”

He said the dismembering of J&K has been challenged in the Supreme Court and the cases are pending for nearly two years.