India to hold its first ‘non-official’ talks with Taliban


Russia’s attempts to position itself as a key player in Afghanistan have run into rough weather again with Afghanistan and India sending non-official delegations to a meeting in Moscow on Friday that will be attended by Taliban representatives.


“Our participation at the meeting will be at the non-official level,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday, without giving details.

People familiar with planning for the meeting, being held under the “Moscow format” launched last year, said India’s non-official delegation will comprise two retired diplomats – TCA Raghavan, a former envoy to Pakistan, and Amar Sinha, a former ambassador to Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier decided to send a non-official delegation from the High Peace Council, including its deputy heads Haji Deen Mohammad and Habiba Surabi.

The Taliban is sending a delegation from its political office in Qatar, reportedly led by Sher Abbas Stanekzai, and this is possibly the first time Taliban leaders and any Indian representatives, official or otherwise, will participate in such talks.

“India’s participation was decided in close coordination with the Afghan side, and we ensured that they would be comfortable with the level of our participation,” said one of the persons cited above.

US participation too will be low key, with the state department saying an official from the US embassy in Moscow will observe the discussions. Spokesman Robert Palladino said the US believes “no government, including Russia, can be a substitute for the Afghan government in direct negotiations with the Taliban”.

In September, during the visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani PM Modi had said that India was committed to the Afghanistan government’s efforts towards an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace and reconciliation process.