Kabul/New Delhi, June 2 (UNI) In India’s first major outreach to the Taliban, a team of senior MEA officials today visited Kabul and held talks with Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, in discussions that focused on diplomatic ties with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, bilateral trade and humanitarian assistance.
While the MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was hard put in saying that the visit of the team, led by JP Singh, Joint Secretary in the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk, should not be seen as anything other than a visit to oversee delivery of humanitarian assistance, the Taliban clearly stated otherwise.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the spokesperson of the Taliban foreign ministry, in a series of tweets, said that “The Indian delegation said they sought positive relations with Afghanistan as in the past”.
“Today, IEA Acting Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi received Indian MEA Joint Secretary J.P. Singh & accompanying delegation. The meeting focused on India-Afghan diplomatic relations, bilateral trade & humanitarian aid.
“Minister Muttaqi welcomed the first Indian delegation to Kabul on behalf of the Indian government & MEA, calling it a good beginning in ties between the two countries.
“He also expressed gratitude for the recent Indian humanitarian & medical assistance to Afghanistan, stressing the resumption of projects by India, their diplomatic presence in Afghanistan & the provision of consular services to Afghans, particularly to Afghan students and patients.”
“The Indian delegation said they sought positive relations with Afghanistan as in the past and that they would continue their assistance, adding that India would consider assisting and working with Afghanistan in various fields, and whilst India has recently opened up its borders & ports for Afghanistan exports leading to increased Afghan exports compared to past year they would provide further facilitates in this area to help Afghanistan further increase its exports and strengthen its economy.
“To end, they agreed to expand interactions between the two countries,” he posted.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, in his media briefing, also side-stepped a direct answer on whether India is planning to reopen its embassy in Kabul formally with Indian staffers who had to be evacuated during the Taliban takeover in August last year.
To questions on whether the meeting with the Taliban leaders is tantamount to recognition of the regime in Kabul, the MEA spokesperson said that it would be “reading too much into the visit” of the MEA officials to Kabul.
On whether India is thinking of reopening the embassy, he said that last year, following the Taliban takeover of Kabul, India had decided to bring back all India based personnel, and since then the embassy is being managed by the local staff there, who are Afghans. He said they have been continuing to maintain the upkeep of the embassy and are also assisting in the delivery of humanitarian assistance sent by India.
“India has long standing ties with Afghans and historical and civilisational ties with Afghanistan, which will continue to guide us,” he said.
To a question on whether the assistance India is sending is reaching the right quarters, he said that India has been sending its assistance through different organisations, including the UNICEF, the WHO and the World Food Programme. He said the assistance is going through these organisations and they have a process of reaching out to those who are most needy.
“Our effort is to ensure that the assistance reaches those who require it and it is through our partners there, the international organisations,” he added.
The spokesperson also declined to discuss the composition of the team that is visiting Afghanistan, and which all places they would visit.
“The multi-member team is headed by JP Singh, Joint Secretary of PAI… I cannot share the composition; they are required to oversee delivery of the humanitarian assistance,” he said, adding that the team would try and visit the various places there India’s programmes and projects are being implemented.
Earlier, the MEA in a statement said that a team of Indian government officials, led by JP Singh, is currently on a visit to Kabul to oversee delivery of India’s humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, and they will also meet senior members of the Taliban.
It said the team will meet representatives of the International Organisations involved in distribution of the humanitarian assistance. In addition, the team is expected to visit various places where Indian programmes / projects are being implemented.
“It may be recalled that in response to the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people, India decided to extend humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.
“In this endeavor, we have already dispatched several shipments of humanitarian assistance consisting of 20,000 MTs of wheat, 13 tons of medicines, 500,000 doses of COVID Vaccine and winter clothing.
“These consignments were handed over to the India Gandhi Children Hospital, Kabul and UN specialized agencies including WHO and World Food Programme. Furthermore, India is in the process of shipping more medical assistance and foodgrains to Afghanistan.”
India has also gifted one million doses of India-made Covaxin to Iran to administer to Afghan refugees in Iran. India has also assisted UNICEF by supplying almost 60 million doses of polio vaccine and two tons of essential medicines.
India’s development and humanitarian assistance has received a wide spread appreciation across the entire spectrum of Afghan society.
“In this connection, the Indian team will meet the senior members of the Taliban, and hold discussions on India’s humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.”
India has historical and civilisational ties with the Afghan people and these longstanding linkages will continue to guide our approach, the statement said.
The development comes days after US’ special envoy on Afghanistan Thomas West was in Delhi and met with JP Singh and other senior Indian government officials regarding Afghanistan. He also met with top Afghan leader Abdullah Abdullah, who is in Delhi since April 30 to be with his family.