New Delhi: India's immediate focus in Afghanistan is to ensure that the country is not used for terrorist activities against it and it was still “very early days” to talk about any possible recognition of the Taliban, the External Affairs Ministry said on Thursday. “Our focus is that Afghan soil should not be used for anti-India activities and terrorism of any kind,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at his weekly briefing when asked about India's engagement with the Taliban and whether it was not a terrorist organisation.
He said that the government continues to give priority to the evacuation of Indian nationals, and was awaiting resumption of services at the Kabul airport. “We have been prioritising the evacuation of our people as well as Afghans we were able to bring out. Currently, of course, the Kabul airport is not operational. So, I don’t have any update on when will we be able to operate more flights. Meanwhile, our Special Afghanistan cell continues to operate,” Bagchi said.
On how many Indian nationals were still in Afghanistan, the MEA spokesperson said, “As I said earlier, it is difficult to give an exact number, particularly given the changes that have taken place in the last two weeks. The number keeps changing. The vast majority of Indians who wanted to get out from there have come out. There are definitely some Indians still there. We will have to wait for their evacuation till the Kabul airport resumes functioning. We raised this issue at the Doha meeting (with Taliban).”
A couple of days after the Indian envoy to Qatar held talks with a senior Taliban leader in Doha, Bagchi faced a volley of questions on whether India was ready to recognise a Taliban regime in the backdrop of the Doha meeting and India's future plans regarding the engagement with the Taliban. Asserting that it was too early to talk about it, the spokesperson said, “Let's treat the Doha meeting for what it is. It was just a meeting. I think these are very early days. We used the opportunity to convey our concerns, whether it is in getting people out of Afghanistan, or on the issue of terrorism. We received a positive response,” he said. On Tuesday, the MEA said Indian envoy to Qatar Deepak Mittal met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban's Political Office in Doha, at the request of the group. It was the first publicly acknowledged formal diplomatic engagement that came two weeks after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.
When asked whether India will have more meetings with the Taliban, Bagchi said that he does not have any update and that he does want to speculate. Asked about the possible roadmap of engagement with the Taliban, the MEA spokesperson added: “It is not a yes or no question. We would not have done anything without thinking. Our primary immediate concern is that Afghan soil should not be used for anti-India activities and for terrorism against India. Our focus is this. Let's see what happens,” he said.