New Delhi: The first such visit since the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government last August India has dispatched a delegates to Kabul, led by the external affairs ministry’s point person on Afghanistan, for discussions with senior Taliban members and to oversee humanitarian relief efforts.
Although there have been back channel talks and meetings with the Taliban in neutral locations such as the United Arab Emirates, India, like other countries, has not recognised the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, India halted its diplomatic mission and flew hundreds of citizens out of the war-torn country on civilian and military flights.
While in Kabul, the delegation, lead by joint secretary JP Singh, who heads the external affairs ministry’s Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk, will “see senior Taliban members and conduct discussions on India’s humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan,” according to a statement from the ministry.
The delegation will be in charge of delivering India’s humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and will meet with leaders from international organisations involved in relief distribution. The delegation will also travel to several locations where Indian programmes and projects are being implemented.
According to sources acquainted with the situation, the visit, which was not mentioned in advance, will be brief and didn’t happen “out of the blue,” implying that the attempt was well-planned. The Taliban are said to have issued security guarantees for the Indian team’s travel.
The Indian team’s meeting with Taliban commanders and the areas it will visit to observe India-backed development projects were not immediately known.
Former Indian envoy to Kabul Vivek Katju, who served from 2002 to 2005, hailed the Indian delegation’s arrival. “We have finally taken a sensible step. I expect that this would result in an adequate degree of permanent Indian presence in Kabul “he stated
Following the Taliban takeover in August, India’s ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met with top Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai at the Indian embassy in Doha in September 2021, marking the first official meeting between the two.
However, even before the Taliban took control, the two sides had established communication lines, and there were multiple instances of contact between the Indian side and prominent Taliban leaders in foreign countries, including Stanekzai and Abdul Ghani Baradar. Indian security officials were mostly responsible for these encounters.
Despite the fact that India closed its embassy in Kabul in August 2021 and its consulates in Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Mazar-e-Sharif in the months and years leading up to the Taliban takeover, the country has responded to the Afghan people’s humanitarian needs, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic collapse that followed the ouster of the elected civilian government.
India has sent many humanitarian aid packages, including 20,000 tonnes of wheat, 13 tonnes of medications, 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccinations, and winter apparel. It has promised to supply 50,000 tonnes of wheat, but delivery have been delayed due to issues caused by Pakistani officials in giving access to land routes for ferries.
The Indian shipments were sent to the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, as well as UN agencies like the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme (WFP). India is preparing to send more medical supplies and food grains to Afghanistan.
The humanitarian aid, which included one million doses of India-made Covaxin vaccinations provided to Iran to administer to Afghan refugees, was part of India’s developmental collaboration with “Afghan brethren,” according to the external affairs ministry. UNICEF has also received assistance from India, which has provided around 60 million doses of polio vaccination and two tonnes of vital medicines.
The ministry stated, “India has historical and civilisational ties with the Afghan people, and these enduring linkages will continue to guide our approach.”
In Afghanistan, India’s development and humanitarian assistance has been widely praised, including by the Taliban leadership, which has emphasised the necessity of preserving connections with New Delhi and has even asked for the return of an Indian diplomatic presence in Kabul.
India’s budget for 2022-23 included $200 million in funding for Afghanistan, signalling New Delhi’s continued commitment to the war-torn country. The funds will be used to cover costs associated with India’s operations in Afghanistan, as well as to offer relief materials and humanitarian aid, as well as to fund existing programmes such as scholarships for Afghan students.
Following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, India became the country’s greatest regional donor, with pledges totaling about $3 billion. The new parliament building, the 218-kilometer Zaranj-Delaram expressway, and the $290-million Friendship Dam are among India’s biggest infrastructure projects. Following the Taliban takeover, however, India-funded projects came to a halt.