The move to hold talks with the Afghan Taliban is seen as a major policy shift by India.
Indian officials held talks with the Taliban during a “quiet visit” to Qatar, the Gulf state’s Special Envoy of the Foreign Minister for Counterterrorism and Mediation of Conflict Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani revealed on Monday.
“I understand that there has been a quiet visit by Indian officials to speak to the Taliban,” Al Qahtani told a web conference organised by the Arab Centre in Washington and Centre for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha— “Looking towards Peace in Afghanistan after the US-NATO Withdrawal”.
Al Qahtani also told The Hindu during the session that the meeting took place place due to the Taliban’s “key” role in Afghanistan’s future.
“Not that everybody thinks the Taliban is going to dominate and take over, but because it is a key component of the future of Afghanistan. So, I see this as the reason behind having a dialogue or talks and reaching out to all parties in Afghanistan,” he explained.
1/3 Met with Indian FM @DrSJaishankar in Doha yesterday. We discussed the priority both our countries attach to an independent, sovereign, and unified #Afghanistan at peace with itself and the world. https://t.co/XmeY3arcYT
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) June 16, 2021
The Qatari diplomat stressed that the peace process is at “critical stages” and if any meeting takes place “it should be to encourage the Afghan-Taliban parties to solve their differences by peaceful means”.
“This is a golden opportunity for all them to get back [to talks]. Nobody, including Qatar, is going to recognise any group that is going to take a country by force,” said Al Qahtani, commenting on security concerns over the withdrawal of US and NATO forces by September 11th this year.
Al Qahtani’s statements come following reports by Indian media suggesting New Delhi’s willingness to hold dialogue with the Afghan Taliban. This is seen as a major policy shift as India has not engaged with the insurgent group in the past, mainly over its perceived connection with Pakistan – its regional rival.
“It is in the interest of Pakistan and India to have a stable Afghanistan. Pakistan is a neighbouring country. India is a country that we know has assisted a lot economically in Afghanistan and they want it to be peaceful and stable,” said Al-Qahtani.
On Sunday, The Indian Express quoted Taliban Spokesman Suhail Shaheen as saying: “Pakistan is our neighbour, we have shared values and history. India is also our regional country. None can change one’s neighbours or region. We must accept this reality and have peaceful coexistence. That is in the interest of all”.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad also met with India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar last week in Doha, where the two diplomats discussed the latest developments in Kabul and the region.
“India has played a very important role in Afghanistan’s economic and social development in the last two decades. It will continue to have a vital role as we work together, and alongside the rest of the international community, to help Afghans achieve peace, security and the economic well being they yearn for and deserve,” tweeted the Washington official.
India has been supporting Afghanistan over the past years, providing the war-torn country with humanitarian aid and contributing to its community development projects.
The two countries signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement in October 2011, which strengthened their bilateral ties. In the past 16 years alone, India’s projects in Afghanistan have amounted to over $2 billion.
Among the projects was the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, earlier known as Salma Dam, which the leaders of both countries inaugurated in 2016.
The two countries also established the India-Afghanistan Air-Freight Corridor in 2017 in efforts to enhance trade.
The total bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan during the 2019-2020 calendar year stood at $1.5 billion.
In November last year, India announced 150 additional projects in Afghanistan that are worth $80 million.