New Delhi: India on Tuesday, June 29, strenuously denied reports that Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar met with “certain Taliban leaders” during his transit stop through Qatar earlier this month.
The latest speculation has been part of a general buzz that India has established contact with the Taliban, with a Qatari minister even stating on record that an Indian delegation had met with the insurgent group in Doha.
India has, so far, not officially responded to the speculations about alleged India-Taliban meetings, as well as the statement from the Qatari minister.
On Tuesday, a well-known Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai tweeted that “Afghan Taliban sources in Quetta Shura” had told him that the Indian external affairs minister had met with Taliban leaders. He also identified the Taliban leaders as Mullah Baradar, head of the political office, along with Khairullah Khairkhwa and Shaikh Dilawar, both of the members of the Taliban negotiating team.
Yousafzai also claimed that the Taliban had told India that future relations would not be dictated by Pakistan’s wishes.
Within a couple of hours, there was a denial from New Delhi. However, it was not issued formally.
“We have seen social media reports claiming that EAM has met certain Taliban leaders. Such reports are completely false, baseless and mischievous,” said official sources.
After the Indian denial, The Wire contacted Yousafzai, who stood by his tweets. He claimed that his information had been conveyed to him by a senior Afghan Taliban leader. Yousafzai added that he was told that the meeting took place at the residence of a high-level Qatari official.
When Jaishankar’s transit stops at Qatar raised eyebrows, questions were asked at the weekly MEA media briefing as to whether India was reaching out to the Taliban. The Indian spokesperson did not directly respond to the query but stated that New Delhi has been “engaged with several stakeholders, including regional countries”.
Later, Qatar’s special envoy for counterterrorism and mediation of conflict resolution Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani had mentioned during a webinar that there had been a “quiet visit by Indian officials from India to speak with the Taliban”.
On Monday, Pakistan’s national security advisor, Moeed Yusuf, told Dawn News that it was a “matter of shame” that the Indian delegation had met with Taliban leaders.
“I want to ask this: with what [moral] standing did this Indian high-level official meet [the Taliban] there? Did they not feel ashamed…[The Indians] kept having the Taliban killed daily and kept giving funds for operations against them and today they have reached there to have talks,” he added.
Yusuf said that he was not concerned by the contacts between India and the insurgent group amid the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. “You should also ask what response the [Indians] got from the [Taliban],” he added.
India’s official policy has been to not recognise the Taliban in any way, with the Afghan government acknowledged as the only legitimate stakeholder in the war-ravaged country.
With the foreign troops expediting their withdrawal, there has been a heightened sense of insecurity, especially for foreign nationals working in Afghanistan.
The Indian embassy in Afghanistan issued a security advisory calling on Indians to exercise “utmost caution and vigilance”. In line with earlier advisories, the embassy also stated that Indian nationals faced an additional serious threat of kidnapping.
In a statement, the Taliban said that it would like to “assure all civilian and non-military foreign nationals, diplomats, embassies, consulates and workers of humanitarian organisations that none shall face any problems or security risks on our part”.
Last week, United Nations noted that civilian casualties have increased by 29% in the first half of 2021, compared to the same period in the previous year.
Further, Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, pointed out that the Taliban have taken over more than 50 out of 370 districts in Afghanistan since the beginning of May.
“Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” Lyon told UN Security Council on June 22. This was in direct contrast to the Taliban political office’s chief assurances of reaching an agreement in an atmosphere of mutual respect, she said.