(This was originally posted in The Hindu by Suhasini Haidar)
India joined a 10-nation statement recognising the “new reality” of the Taliban in power in Afghanistan at the Moscow format meeting on Wednesday, as Indian officials reportedly met Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi and offered humanitarian aid to the regime in Kabul. News of the meeting between the Taliban delegation and J.P. Singh, Joint Secretary for Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran, Ministry of External Affairs, was reported over the Twitter handle of the Taliban Deputy Information and Broadcasting Minister and spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid.
The MEA made no immediate comment, but Government sources confirmed to The Hindu that the meeting had taken place and India was considering donation of a large consignment of wheat and other aid to Afghanistan. “Both sides considered it necessary to take into account each other’s concerns and improve diplomatic and economic relations. The Indian side finally expressed readiness to provide a wide range of humanitarian assistance to the Afghans,” Mr. Mujahid said in a series of tweets announcing the meeting between “the Special Representative of India for Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan” and Mr. Hanafi in Moscow.
This would be the first time India has officially announced aid for Afghanistan after the August 15 takeover of Kabul by the Taliban. India was also a signatory to the joint statement issued by representatives of China, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan which called on the Taliban to keep their commitment on forming an “inclusive” government and ensuring that their territory is not used by terror groups to threaten the security of other countries, curb transnational drug routes and pursue “friendly relations” with neighbouring countries.
‘The new reality’
“It was stated that further practical engagement with Afghanistan needed to take into account the new reality, that is the Taliban coming to power in the country, irrespective of the official recognition of the new Afghan government by the international community,” the statement said, marking a decided shift in India’s previously tough stand on engaging the Taliban. In the past few months, the Indian Ambassador in Doha has met with Taliban representatives and an Indian delegation took part in another multi-country meeting in Doha that included Taliban representatives as well. However, this is the first such official participation by India where the delegation, which also includes MEA Joint secretary for Eurasia Adarsh Swaika met directly with Taliban officials who are part of the new regime in Kabul that remains unrecognised by any country.
The Moscow format meeting, part of a series of meetings on Afghanistan since 2017, concluded with a proposal to launch a collective initiative for an international donor conference convened by the United Nations to collect funds for Afghanistan’s economic and financial reconstruction, with the statement adding, in a reference to the U.S. and NATO troops, that this “must be shouldered by troop-based actors which were in the country for the past 20 years.”
The U.S. did not send any representative to the meeting, in a possible indication of the Biden administration’s waning interest in Afghanistan, with a renewed focus on groupings in the Indo-Pacific, a move Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised. “We express our regret that our American colleagues did not participate in the event this time. We drew attention to the fact that for the second time in a row the Americans have avoided a meeting within the framework of the expanded ‘troika’ [Russia-U.S.A.-China-Pakistan]. I hope this has nothing to do with some principal problems,” Mr. Lavrov said, inaugurating the meeting.
In comments earlier this week, the U.S. State department announced that it would not join either the “Troika Plus” China-Russia-U.S.- Pakistan grouping or the Moscow format to discuss Afghanistan’s future, due to “logistical difficulties” after the resignation of special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. His deputy Thomas West, who took over the position, telephoned his Russian counterpart Zamir Kabulov and expressed his regrets on Tuesday.