Taliban delegates speak during talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020 (Reuters file photo)
NEW DELHI: Even as a special envoy from Qatar revealed that Indian officials had “quietly” met Taliban representatives in Doha, Indian sources indicated that there had been intermittent contacts in the recent past.
Speaking in a webinar on Monday, Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, who is special envoy to the Qatari foreign minister, said he believed India was engaging the Taliban not because they might take over Afghanistan but that they are an important part of the new power/political setup there.
“I understand that there has been a quiet visit by Indian officials… to speak with the Taliban… because Taliban is a key component of, or should be or is going to be a key component of the future of Afghanistan,” Al-Qahtani reportedly said during the webinar. The effort should be, he said, to urge all sides to arrive at a peaceful resolution.
The engagement from the Indian side, it is learnt, is being driven by national security adviser Ajit Doval. It is still at an informal level and yet to be crystallised into any formal engagement. There have been intermittent contacts at different levels in the past few years. While there is no official sanction to the Taliban yet, since the Indian government has preferred to deal with the government in Kabul, if conditions on the ground change as they might, India, sources say, will deal with the Taliban.
Questioned, MEA spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi said, “We are in touch with various stakeholders, as I said, in pursuance of our long term commitments towards development and reconstruction of Afghanistan.”
However, there is growing concern about the crumbling of the state in Afghanistan. Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla pointed out that the “targeted assassinations” and “territorial aggression” by the Taliban in recent weeks have added to the uncertainty. “I think the levels of violence and the fact that despite talks going on in Qatar and other places, their relentless pursuit of power through violence has made it an uncertain environment in any sense,” Shringla said. “Many of those talks are on but as I said the situation is fluid and uncertain and at this point of time, it’s very difficult to say how things would work out,” he said.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar was in Qatar twice over the past couple of weeks where he not only met the Qatari leadership, including the national security adviser, but also spent time with the US special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad who was also in Doha at the time. “During these transits, he met his Qatari counterpart as well as senior members of the Qatari leadership. As Qatar is involved in the Afghan peace process, the issue of Afghanistan was also discussed during the external affairs minister’s conversations,” Bagchi said.
“US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad happened to be in Doha during this period of the EAM’s visit and called on the EAM to brief him on the recent developments regarding Afghanistan,” he said.