Ahead of the Moscow format discussion at Kazan in Russia, the Taliban have called upon India to help in the economic recovery of Afghanistan. The discussion scheduled to be held on September 29 is significant from the regional point of view as this is the first such meeting after China increased engagement with the Taliban and sent a new Ambassador to Kabul earlier this month.
“We want positive traditional relations with India as it has been the case for decades but we expect her to support our cause for economic stability and recognition,” Suhail Shaheen, head of the Political Office of the Taliban administration of Kabul, said.
In a written response to a question from The Hindu, Mr. Shaheen referred to the Taliban government as the “Islamic Emirate”, which he claimed “has the support of the Afghan people”. He said a Taliban delegation led by ‘Foreign Minister’ Amir Khan Muttaqi had reached Moscow where they were holding discussion with Kremlin officials. The delegation will then head to Kazan.
The upcoming meeting is significant as it is being held in the backdrop of growing engagement between Kabul under the Taliban and Moscow and Beijing. The Taliban had refused to participate in the previous round of Moscow format talks in November 2022. India has refused to recognise the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” urging its leaders to respect human rights, and ensure protection of minority communities. During the same time, the Taliban’s diplomatic engagement has deepened with Russia, China, Pakistan and Turkmenistan though no country has so far accepted a full-fledged Ambassador from Kabul under the current circumstances. It was earlier reported that India will send representatives for the Kazan meeting. The External Affairs Ministry did not respond to queries from The Hindu till the time of publication of this report.
The Moscow format is one of the several dialogue platforms started to attain reconciliation in Afghanistan where the Taliban clashed against the U.S.-supported government of President Ashraf Ghani. It consisted of six member countries — Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran and India. The first round of consultations took place on April 14, 2017 which included 11 countries Russia, Afghanistan (erstwhile Islamic Republic of Afghanistan led by President Ashraf Ghani), China, Pakistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, India, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021, the Moscow format consultations were held in October that year and in November 2022. The 2021 meeting was attended by ‘Deputy Prime Minister of Taliban’ Abdul Salam Hanafi. Taliban however did not participate in the November 2022 meeting.
The Kazan chapter of the Moscow format consultations has additional significance because earlier this month, China became the first major power to appoint a new ambassador, Zhao Xing, to Kabul. India evacuated its embassy in Kabul in August 2021 and has maintained a “technical team” in the mission to assist its large-scale humanitarian assistance to Afghan people. It also has not allowed Taliban to appoint any diplomatic staff in the Afghan mission in New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri though Afghan sources have informed that most of the former staffers have left the mission which has been struggling with finances since the fall of the Ghani government.
Earlier this year, a controversy broke out about the whereabouts of Ambassador Farid Mamundzay who it was believed had gone missing. Subsequently in a message to the media in August, he clarified that he was away from India because of “personal and family reasons and will be returning to the Embassy in New Delhi in the near future.” He added, “… During my absence the acting ambassador has effectively managed and overseen all mission-related activities.” A source in the Afghan mission here however indicated that all is not well in the mission because of lack of leadership and desertion by several officials. There are also uncertainties about the whereabouts of Mr. Mamundzay. The official maintained that lack of established diplomatic channel however has not dampened the trade ties which was evident in the August 18-28 India International Mega Trade Fair in Delhi where the Afghan stall received large scale footfalls.