India in ‘touch with various stakeholders’ on Afghanistan, top MEA official in Doha for peace talks

New Delhi, Aug 12 (FN Agency) As the Afghan peace talks in Doha are underway, India on Thursday said it has sent a top official to participate in the negotiations, and that New Delhi “is in touch with various stakeholders”, without directly mentioning the Taliban. With the Taliban capturing Ghazni, the tenth provincial capital in Afghanistan, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the rapid deterioration in the situation is matter of serious concern and India is monitoring it. Bagchi, answering questions at a media briefing here, said Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran desk), in the MEA, J P Singh, is in Doha currently and is participating in the talks on the Afghanistan peace process on Thursday.

Referring to the visit of the Qatari special envoy, Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, to India last week, he said that the Qatari envoy had during his talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar discussed the Afghan situation and extended an invitation to India to participate in the Doha meetings. “Discussions were held on a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, and also on bilateral issues,” he said. “He (Qahtani) had extended an invitation to India to participate in the meetings in Doha, which we have accepted, our JS (PAI) J P Singh is currently there. That meeting will include several important stakeholders from Afghanistan, and will also discuss further the support of the international community. The meeting is underway today,” he added. India’s participation in the Doha talks comes as the Troika Plus grouping of the US, China, Russia and Pakistan, is in Doha to press the Taliban to seek a negotiated settlement. To a question on whether India was also in talks with the Taliban, he said: “We are in touch with various stakeholders, and I don’t want to comment beyond this.”

The spokesperson declined to comment on reports that an India-gifted Mi35 helicopter had been captures by the Taliban in Kunduz airport. He said that while they have seen different reports, “All I can say is that it is not for us to comment. It is an internal matter for Afghanistan, and we would not like to comment on that aspect.” India had gifted two MI-35 choppers to the Afghan Air Force on October 15, 2019, in support of the country’s counterterrorism efforts. Videos and photos on social media on Wednesday had shown a Taliban militant riding a bike on the tarmac next to an Mi-35 chopper, and in another photo two militants are shown posing next to an Mi-35 helicopter. On the security situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has rapidly advanced across the country, and has reportedly captured 10 provinces, the spokesperson said that it is of great concern to India. “The situation is of great concern. It is a rapidly evolving situation.

On the ground we continue to hope there will be an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire. We are supporting all the peace initiatives in Afghanistan. Our primary concern is peace and stability, and the country having a prosperous future, and be independent and sovereign,” the spokesperson added. Asked if the projects built by India were in harm’s way due to the violence taking place there, he said that it is “wrong to label them as Indian projects”. “They are India assisted projects, but they are projects of the government and the people of Afghanistan. They are very useful projects for the development of the country,” he added. To another question on the safety of the minority Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan, he said that India is closely monitoring the developments. “We are concerned about the deteriorating situation. The Kabul mission issued an advisory for Indian nationals, advising them to return to India via commercial flights.” “Last year our mission in Kabul had facilitated the return of 383 people belonging to the Hindu and Sikh communities in Afghanistan and our embassy continues to remain in touch with these communities. We will ensure the provision of all necessary assistance to them,” he added.