India announces first formal meeting with Taliban- Who is Taliban Leader who met Indian Ambassador?

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the Taliban leader who met the Indian Ambassador to Doha had trained with the Indian Army between 1979-1982, three years as a jawan in the Army Cadet College, Nowgaon and then as an officer at Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.

Created On: Sep 1, 2021 12:03 IST
India’s ambassador to Qatar Deepak Mittal, Source: Reuters
India’s ambassador to Qatar Deepak Mittal, Source: Reuters

India on August 31, 2021 announced its first formal meeting with the Taliban. The meeting took place following a request by the Taliban leaders who have taken control over war-torn Afghanistan. 

India’s ambassador to Qatar Deepak Mittal held talks with Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of Taliban's political office at the Indian embassy in Doha, Qatar's capital over safe return of Indian nationals and preventing anti-India terror activities on Afghan soil. The meeting reportedly lasted for over an hour. 

This is the first time India has formally admitted to have made diplomatic contact with the Taliban. There have been reports of similar meetings between Indian officials with the Taliban leaders on a few occasions earlier as well but they were not announced or confirmed.

What has the Taliban promised India?

The Taliban leader reportedly assured the Indian envoy that the Taliban will address all 3 major concerns raised by India:

-Safety and return of Indian nationals

-Safe passage for Afghan nationals wishing to come to India

-Preventing Pakistan-based terror groups from carrying out anti-India activities using Afghan territory 

India's official statement on Meeting in Doha 

The Indian government released a statement immediately after the meeting on August 31st, confirming that the Indian Ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of Taliban’s Political Office in Doha on the request of the Taliban side.

The discussions were focused on safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan and travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities, who wish to visit to India also came up.

The Indian Ambassador raised India’s concern that Afghanistan’s soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner. The Taliban leader assured India that these issues would be positively addressed.

The meeting came within 24 hours of the departure of the last US soldier from Afghanistan, officially ending America's longest war in Afghanistan. 

Who is the Taliban Leader who met the Indian Ambassador?

•Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the Taliban leader who met the Indian Ambassador to Doha had trained with the Indian Army between 1979-1982. He had trained for three years as a jawan in the Army Cadet College, Nowgaon and then as an officer at Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.

•He is a key diplomat and one of the seven people who take decisions in the insurgent group that recently took over Afghanistan. He is the senior-most Taliban leader to reach out to India after the Taliban takeover of Kabul. 

•He is one of the rare Taliban leaders who is well versed in the English language and also well-traveled. He had served as Afghanistan's Deputy Foreign Minister the last time the Taliban had gained control over the country. 

•He had led a failed delegation to Washington DC in 1996 to convince President Bill Clinton's administration to acknowledge the Taliban government. He had also led delegations to China back then. 

•He was also Taliban's deputy negotiator in the talks held with the officials of the former Ashraf Ghani-led Afghanistan government.

India following wait and watch approach with Taliban?

The meeting does not mean recognition of the Taliban government in Afghanistan by India. India is still taking a wait-and-watch approach. 

The meeting reportedly follows an `outreach’ by the Taliban leader himself last week. The Taliban reportedly sees India as an important country and wants to have better trade, political and cultural ties with it. 

Stanekzai heads the Taliban's political office in Doha. He has reportedly been having frequent meetings with heads of foreign missions in Doha.

India in meetings with the US and other “like-minded’’ countries, agreed that it is important to remain engaged with Afghanistan to ensure the Taliban government in Kabul is inclusive and one which protects women, minorities and children.

Background 

Under India's Presidency, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted a strong resolution demanding that the Afghanistan territory not be used to threaten any country or shelter terrorists. The UNSC resolution expects the Taliban to adhere to its commitments regarding safe and orderly departure of all foreign nationals from the country. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had directed the formation of a high-level group comprising NSA Ajit Doval, foreign minister S Jaishankar and other senior officials to monitor the ground situation in Afghanistan. The high-level group will focus on the immediate priorities of India in Afghanistan including safe evacuation of stranded Indians in the nation. 

This came after the United States pulled out its last troops from the nation on August 31, 2021. India has been closely monitoring the situation in the country. Taliban spokesperson Zahebullah Mujahid had on August 30, 2021, informed that Afghan Hindus and Sikhs are allowed to travel to India if they have all the valid travel documents. 

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