Moscow Format dialogue: First India, Taliban meet since formation of Afghanistan cabinet

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India is set to participate in the Moscow Format meeting on Afghanistan, which will be attended by the Taliban, on Wednesday. This will be the first Moscow format dialogue since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August. The meet is expected to focus on the security situation and the formation of an inclusive government in the country.

The Indian delegation to the meet will be led by JP Singh, the joint secretary who heads the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk in the external affairs ministry. The possibility of informal contacts between the Indian team and the Taliban on the margins of the meeting in Moscow has not been ruled out.

The dialogue between the Taliban and 10 regional countries is being held a day after a meeting of the "extended troika" was hosted by Moscow on Tuesday. US had pulled out of the meet and only special representatives from Russia, China and Pakistan €" the other members of the extended troika €" participated in the meeting.

The special representatives of Russia, China and Pakistan exchanged views on "common security threats [and] expressed their joint interest in providing Afghanistan with urgent humanitarian and economic assistance", the Russian foreign ministry said.

The Moscow Format

The Moscow Format was established in 2017 as a six-party mechanism involving Russia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, China and Pakistan. It was later expanded with the inclusion of more countries and meetings were held in Moscow in 2017 and 2018.

While India had its first formal contact with the Taliban in Doha on 31 August, this Moscow Format is likely to be the first formal contact between New Delhi and the Taliban government after an interim cabinet was announced by them.

Why is India participating

On any humanitarian assistance, India is extending or has extended to Afghanistan, MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi has said India's policy towards Afghanistan is guided by its friendship with the Afghan people. India has in the past provided assistance both for infrastructure as well as for humanitarian purposes, he said.

"Coming specifically to humanitarian assistance, you would recall that the UN secretary-general had convened a meeting on the subject on 13 September in which External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar participated. In his intervention... our approach to the issue of humanitarian assistance was laid out very clearly," he added.

"This includes India's willingness to continue to stand by the Afghan people, the need for the international community to create the best possible enabling environment, the unimpeded, unrestricted and direct access to humanitarian assistance providers and non-discriminatory distribution," Bagchi said.

US will not participate

The US state department said on Monday the American special representative would not participate in the extended troika talks due to logistical reasons. The Extended Troika includes Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan.

"We will not participate in the Moscow talks. The Troika Plus has been an effective, constructive forum. We look forward to engaging in that forum going forward, but we're not in a position to take part this week," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

The Taliban

The Afghan delegation is being led by the deputy second prime minister of Islamic Emirate's government Abdul Salam Hanafi. According to Tolo News, the delegation includes the acting foreign minister Amir Khan Mutaqi, among other ministers of the Taliban government.

The acting foreign minister Amir Khan Mutaqi has expressed hopes that the meeting would lead to recognition of the Islamic emirate by international countries, the Tolo News reported citing Mutaqi's recent interview.

"Representatives of many countries will participate in the meeting, so the meeting is important for Afghanistan," said Mutaqi.

Russia on the meet

Ahead of the meet, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday said the official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion at the moment.

"Official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now," Tolo News quoted Lavrov, adding, "Like most of other influential countries in the region, we are in contact with them. We are prodding them to fulfill the promises they made when they came to power."

"We encourage them to live up to the promises they made when they came to power, including ensuring that the government is inclusive not only along the ethnic lines but also along the political lines so that the full range of political beliefs of the society is reflected in the government's composition," Sputnik said quoting Lavrov.

Zamir Kabulov, Russia's special presidential envoy for Afghanistan, said that Moscow intended to have a frank discussion with the Taliban during the Moscow Format meeting, but no "breakthrough decisions" were expected.

The Russian side intends to "hold a sincere conversation behind closed doors with the representatives of the new Afghan leadership" and "convey our objections to the Afghan delegation", Kabulov was quoted as saying by state-run TASS news agency. "We do not expect any breakthrough decisions, this is a long evolutionary process, we are proceeding from this understanding," he said.

Kabulov further said the discussions will focus on human rights issues and the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. He added that fighting drug trafficking and terror threats related to Afghanistan remain a priority for Russia and other countries.

With inputs from agencies

Also See: A million Afghanistan children could face malnutrition and death in 2021 warns UNICEF

Pakistan's PIA suspends flights to Kabul citing 'unprofessional attitude' of Taliban authorities

Russia to invite Taliban for international talks in Moscow on 20 October, says Kremin envoy

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