India establishes a tentative diplomatic presence in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan

A Taliban fighter walks into a house damaged by the explosions, after an explosive-laden vehicle detonated amidst an attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 18, 2022. REUTERS/Ali Khara

In what comes as a major step in diplomatically engaging with the Taliban regime, India deployed what it euphemistically called a “technical team” in its embassy in Kabul which had been closed since August last year after the Taliban seized power after toppling the US-backed Afghan government.

“To closely monitor and coordinate the efforts of various stakeholders for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and in continuation of our engagement with the Afghan people, an Indian technical team has reached Kabul today and has been deployed in our Embassy there,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs [MEA] said in a statement.

Taliban Times noting India kickstarting relationship with Taliban rulers in Afghanistan Photo: Twitter

New Delhi withdrew all its officials from the embassy and consulates in Afghanistan last year on the security ground after the Taliban seized power. However, New Delhi initiated contact with the Taliban leaders through the latter’s Doha office and continued back-channel communication which helped it to send humanitarian aid.

The move was anticipated after Joint Secretary JP Singh, MEA’s point person for Afghanistan, visited Kabul earlier this month and met with senior Taliban leaders, including interim Foreign Minister Ameer Khan Muttaqi and powerful Interior Ministry Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Singh, who took stock of India’s humanitarian aid assistance to Afghans during his visit, also assessed the security situation there. Taliban officials assured, both publicly and privately, to provide full security to the Embassy if New Delhi decided to open it.

In its statement said, “Our long-standing links with Afghan society and our development partnership including humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan will continue to guide our approach going forward.”

The move isn’t a recognition of the Taliban regime which remains internationally isolated. The emphasis on people-people and civilizational connections underscores New Delhi’s attempt to retain its soft power in the country.

Last month, during a regional meeting in Uzbekistan, Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval also said, “the special relationship with the people of Afghanistan over centuries will guide India’s approach. Nothing can change this.”

India also rushed on Thursday aid and relief material for the victims of the recent earthquake in eastern Afghanistan which has killed over 1000 people. The aid was delivered by an Indian Air Force plane which also carried the “technical team”.

Significantly, this is also the first time that an Indian military plane landed in Taliban-held Kabul.

In the last two decades, India spent over $3 billion in aid and development assistance to Afghanistan. And, the recent moves —the direct contacts and the establishment of diplomatic presence–indicate two things: the change in New Delhi’s perception of how it sees the Taliban; Secondly, the quest for maintaining strategic space in Afghanistan and not allowing Pakistan to have a monopoly there.

India has generated immense goodwill among Afghans in the last two decades, by taking up development projects and offering medical and student visas, and scholarships to thousands of people. However, the closure of the embassy hampered this assistance and created hardship, especially for students and those seeking medical assistance in Indian hospitals. In the coming days, consular services and even the resumption of the development projects are likely to begin.



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