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South Asia

Want to Maintain Air Corridor, Land Trade Route With India: Taliban's Deputy Political Chief

The Taliban has not made any negative statements about India recently, which has been noted and highlighted by the Indian establishment.

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New Delhi: Taliban’s deputy political head, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, stated on Saturday that it wanted good relations with Afghanistan’s neighbours. He described India as an “important” regional nation and called for maintaining trade routes, including the air corridor.

Two weeks since the Taliban walked into Kabul after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country, no government is in place. Even as Taliban leaders are scrambling to put in place an “inclusive” cover over a future government, it continues to give public assurances to Afghanistan’s neighbours, who are nervous about the stability and intention of the new regime due to their historical memories.

In a 45-minute speech broadcast on Saturday, Stanikzai listed the Taliban’s expectations from regional countries.

According to a rough translation, he said that the Taliban considered India as an “important regional country”.

He then stated that the Taliban would like to continue political and economic relations with India, especially the air corridor.

“We want to have political and economic relations with India like in the past, including the air corridor, but also we want to improve it. Afghanistan businesses would like access to the Indian market through Pakistan,” Stanikzai said, as per a translation.

Also read: Rana Banerji on How Pakistan Propped Up, Funded and Sustained the Taliban

The air corridor was started in 2017 to bypass Pakistan, as the latter does not allow Afghan trucks to ferry Indian goods from the Wagah border crossing. The Afghan government had previously raised the matter with Pakistan as it was not economically viable to ply heavy trucks on an essentially one-way trade route.

Stanikzai also apparently praised the trading of goods routed through Iran’s Chabahar port, where India has been a development partner. “We will seek to continued access to Chabahar Port, built through Indian investment, for our traders.”

India has currently withdrawn all its diplomatic personnel, including staff from its embassy. It had evacuated over 500 people on six flights.

The Taliban has not made any negative statements about India recently, which has been noted and highlighted by the Indian establishment.

Earlier on August 21, Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had said in a public function that India “can work with a dispensation that is willing to look after the interests of the Afghan people”. He had also observed that the new regime required both trade and aid from India.

Before the Taliban re-conquest of Kabul, Indian officials, including external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, had emphasised that a military takeover would lead to credibility issues for any new Afghan government. However, this has not been reiterated since August 15.

In its statements on developments in Afghanistan, the Indian government has not cited the Taliban by name so far.

The Chabahar port had been mentioned in Stanikzai’s speech in connection with the Taliban’s relations with Iran. He noted that relations with Tehran had gone through ups and downs historically, but commended Iran’s current policy as “constructive”.

Another economic project mention by Stanikzai in which India has a stake was the stalled TAPI oil pipeline from Turkmenistan. “We support the TAPI project and will seek to accelerate its implementation,” he said.

About China, Stanikzai said that the new Afghan government will continue to foster friendly relations with China as they have always had a favourable policy towards Afghanistan. He also lauded China for having contributed to the Afghan economy.

Also read: UNSC Drops Language on Opposing Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan, Singling Out Taliban on Terrorism

During his speech delivered in Afghanistan’s two main languages, Stanikzai talked about relations with India in Pashto, while the policy with China was expounded in Dari.

He also acknowledged Pakistan for having hosted millions of Afghan refugees. “The same way we had positive relations in the past, we want positive relations based on non-interference.”

Stanikzai seems to have talked about non-interference in domestic affairs specifically in relation to three countries – Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

Speaking on the future shape of the government, he said that the new system would be inclusive where all ethnicities will be represented.

With crowds still thronging Kabul airport, he also reiterated that all Afghans with valid visas would be allowed to travel out of the country once the airport is handed over to the Taliban. All US troops are scheduled to leave the military side of the Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 31.