In the first official Indian visit to Kabul since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, a team led by a senior official from the Ministry of External Affairs met Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mottaqi on Thursday.
J P Singh, Joint Secretary in charge of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran (PAI) in the MEA, led the Indian team. In the past, he has met Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar.
India closed its mission in Kabul soon after the Taliban entered the city last August.
The Indian delegation led by Singh visited a hospital, a school, and a power plant in Kabul during the day.
Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi, who tweeted a photograph of the meeting, said diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and India, bilateral trade, and humanitarian assistance were discussed.
Mottaqi, Balkhi said, welcomed the first delegation from the MEA and the Indian government, and called it a “good start” between the two countries. He thanked India for its recent humanitarian and health assistance to Afghanistan.
According to the spokesperson, Mottaqi stressed that India should resume its stalled projects, activate its diplomatic presence, and provide consular services to Afghans, especially Afghan students and patients.
He said the Indian delegation too said it wanted good relations with Afghanistan as earlier, and would continue providing assistance.
Balkhi said India would consider “assisting and working with Afghanistan” in various fields as it had recently opened its borders and ports to Afghan exports, and exports were higher than in previous years. This, he said, is expected to facilitate further growth of Afghanistan’s exports and support its economy.
Earlier in the day, the MEA said the Indian team would meet “senior members of the Taliban”, and hold discussions on India’s humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
The purpose of the visit, the MEA said, was to oversee “delivery operations of our humanitarian assistance” to Afghanistan.
It said the team would also meet representatives of international organisations involved in distribution of humanitarian assistance. In addition, the team was expected to visit places where Indian programmes and projects were being implemented.
“In response to the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people, India decided to extend humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. In this endeavour, 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 specialised agencies including WHO and WFP. Furthermore, India is in the process of shipping more medical assistance and food grains to Afghanistan,” the MEA said.
“In continuation with our developmental partnership with Afghan brethren, we have gifted one million doses of India-made Covaxin to Iran to administer to Afghan refugees in Iran. We have also assisted UNICEF by supplying almost 60 million doses of polio vaccine and two tons of essential medicines,” it said.
“India’s development and humanitarian assistance has received widespread appreciation across the entire spectrum of Afghan society,” the MEA said.
It underlined that India has “historical and civilisational ties with the Afghan people” and “these longstanding linkages will continue to guide our approach”.
The visit to Kabul points to a wider acceptance of the view in the Indian establishment that Delhi needs to engage with the Taliban. It may also be a precursor to India returning to Kabul, with liaison or consular services to begin with.
Significantly, despite there being no diplomatic contact all this while, Afghan-India trade has continued with only a short interruption during the Taliban takeover last August