India has confirmed its participation in the annual Moscow format consultations on Afghanistan, which will be held in Kazan on September 29. New Delhi’s participation in the meeting is seen as an effort to safeguard its strategic interests in the region.
Moscow Format was established in 2017 as a regional platform for consultations between special envoys of Russia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, and Pakistan to promote peace, stability and facilitate national reconciliation in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Moscow assumed the lead in the process, and later five Central Asian nations, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan joined the diplomatic outreach.
Forming an inclusive government in Afghanistan was highlighted at last year’s meeting in Moscow, which took place without Taliban delegates.
The ten countries called on Afghanistan to fulfill its commitments to eradicate terrorism and drug trafficking and stressed the importance of forming a truly inclusive government, reflecting the interests of all major ethnopolitical groups of the country.
The joint statement of the country representatives in the format also noted that while efforts to provide economic and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan should be intensified, it was important from the country’s interim government to “ensure the basic rights and freedoms” of the people.
Zamir Kabulov, the Russian special envoy for Afghanistan, told TASS that the upcoming meeting in Kazan will emphasize on the inclusivity of the interim Taliban government, counterterrorism and crimes linked to the narcotics trade that was estimated to be over $2.7 billion in 2021. He expressed concerns that there have been “no progress” on these matters. According to TASS, the Taliban delegation has confirmed its participation in the consultations this year.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban government, acknowledged the importance of the meeting as differences between the Islamic Emirate and other countries can be resolved through dialogue, according to Kabul-based media outlet Tolonews. “At the meetings, there should be a spirit of cooperation with Afghans and resolving conflicts through dialogue. The Islamic Emirate prefers that all problems, concerns, or demands should be shared with us and discussed directly,” said the spokesperson.
The Taliban seized power in August 2021, amid chaotic withdrawal of the US troops from the country, marked with heart-wrenching images of thousands of Afghans rushing the international airport in Kabul to flee the country, with some of them clinging to sides of US military aircraft during taxi and take off and then falling to death.
Currently only neighboring Pakistan, as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the only countries that recognize the Taliban government. Russia and India, however, are among a dozen nations that have diplomatic missions in Afghanistan.
India’s Minister of External Affairs Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar had earlier said that New Delhi would keep its embassy open in Kabul but wouldn’t send an ambassador. Though India has been one of the leading donors for various developmental projects in Afghanistan, the largesse has dwindled since the Taliban returned to power.
In the current financial year 2023-24, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated 2 billion rupees ($24 million) for expenditure on grants and loans to Afghanistan, which remained unchanged from the previous year but was significantly lower than 3.5 billion rupees ($42 million) in 2021-22, when ousted president Ashraf Ghani was in power.