India is hosting senior security officials from Russia, Iran and five Central Asian countries to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, but no Afghan representative is in attendance.
India’s archrival Pakistan and China also declined to attend the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan held on Wednesday following the fall of the United States-backed government and the Taliban takeover of the country.
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India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had invited security chiefs from Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for the talks.
“This is a time for close consultation among us,” Doval said in opening remarks before the meeting. He said he hoped the deliberations will help the people of Afghanistan and enhance the region’s collective security.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement the meeting will address “the relevant security challenges and support the people of Afghanistan in promoting peace, security and stability”.
The top security officials were expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday. The first two editions of the meeting were hosted by Iran in 2018 and 2019.
Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf last week called India a “spoiler” and not a “peacemaker” in Afghanistan.
India’s MEA officials said Pakistan’s refusal to attend the meeting was “unfortunate, but not surprising” and “reflects its mindset of viewing Afghanistan as its protectorate”.
The meeting underscores India’s attempts to protect its strategic interests in Afghanistan amid Pakistan’s growing influence in the region.
Archrivals India and Pakistan have long tried to wield influence over Afghanistan to meet their security interests.
India’s leaders fear the Taliban rise to power will benefit Pakistan and feed a long-simmering rebellion in Indian-administered Kashmir.
According to Indian security expert and political commentator Bharat Karnad, the meeting in New Delhi is “a way of alerting everybody to India’s stake and India’s interests in Afghanistan”.
“This is a way of India saying we too have a stake in Afghanistan and making that aspect clear to the world,” Karnad told Al Jazeera.
When asked why no representative from Afghanistan has been invited, he said: “The trouble is if you invite a representative from the Taliban government in Kabul, then in essence you will be according it recognition, in some ways, acknowledging that government which India doesn’t want at this moment in time.”
New Delhi’s relations with Afghanistan are in suspended animation. It has no diplomatic presence left in Kabul after it evacuated its staff before the final US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
It did, however, hold its first official meeting with a Taliban representative in Qatar on August 31.
TCA Raghavan, the former Indian former ambassador to Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera the meeting allows India “to work with central Asian countries on Afghanistan and also with Iran and Russia”.
“On the whole, the more regional consultations and efforts to build stronger regional consensus on Afghanistan, the better it is,” he said.
“I don’t see it as, specifically, an Indian projection. I think this is an effort by Afghanistan’s neighbours to see whether they can increase the common ground which exists.”
Before the Taliban took Kabul, India provided Afghan security forces with operational training and military equipment, even though it has had no troops on the ground. It was also the region’s largest provider of development aid to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s acting FM visits Pakistan
Meanwhile, a senior Taliban delegation led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi is scheduled to visit Islamabad on Wednesday as India hosts the Afghanistan meeting.
The Taliban foreign ministry said Muttaqi will discuss a range of issues during his trip, from the economy and refugees, to enhancing transit across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
This is Muttaqi’s first visit to Islamabad following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August.
In a dig at India, a spokesman for the Taliban government, Inamullah Habibi Samangani, said on Tuesday that the security and economic development of Afghanistan is in favour of its neighbouring countries.
“The Islamic Emirate is not worried about such meetings but hopes to facilitate good cooperation,” Samangani said.