'Reports of Jaishankar meeting Taliban leaders false'

'Reports claiming Jaishankar's meeting with certain Taliban leaders completely false'

The reports emerged as the US looked to complete the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan by September 11

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. Credit: PTI file photo

A source in New Delhi dismissed social media reports about the External Affairs Minister’s meeting with the leaders of the Taliban as “completely false, baseless and mischievous”.

New Delhi, however, refrained from confirming or denying speculation about meetings that its diplomats and security officials purportedly held with the leaders of the Taliban. Qatar’s special envoy for counter-terrorism and mediation of conflict resolution Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani, however, recently said during a webinar that a delegation of the Government of India had quietly visited Doha and had a meeting with the representatives of Taliban recently.

Moeed was quoted by a newspaper published in Pakistan wondering why India was not "ashamed of its outreach to the leaders of the Taliban" after supporting offensives against it for years.

Jaishankar recently had stopovers in Doha while travelling to and returning from Kenya. He had meetings with Qatari National Security Advisor Mohamed Bin Ahmed Al Mesned and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

The Qatar government has been facilitating the peace-process between the US and Taliban as well as the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.

The Taliban also has a political office in Doha.

The External Affairs Minister also had a meeting with US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, during one of his stopovers in Doha to discuss the progress of the talks with the Taliban.

Jaishankar, himself, tweeted about most of his meetings during his stopovers in Doha. But none of his tweets had any reference to a meeting with the leaders of the Taliban.

But his stopovers in Doha triggered rumours in social media about his meeting with the leaders of Taliban, like Mullah Baradar, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Shaikh Dilawar. A social media post even hinted that the Taliban had assured the External Affairs Minister that it would not let its relations with India in future to be dictated by Pakistan.

The rumours in social media about Jaishankar’s meeting with the leaders of the Taliban followed reports about officials of the Government of India quietly engaging with the Islamist militia of Afghanistan. The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Arindam Bagchi, on June 22 told media-persons in New Delhi that India had been in touch with “various stakeholders” in Afghanistan. He was responding to a question on India’s contacts with the Taliban.

New Delhi of late started reviewing its policy of avoiding contacts with the Taliban, particularly after the United States started withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. President Joe Biden’s administration decided that the US would withdraw almost all its troops from Afghanistan by September 11 next. The US had held talks with the Taliban and also facilitated talks between the Afghan Government and the militia. With the peace-process likely to lead to some of the leaders of the Taliban returning to the Government in Afghanistan, India is worried over the possibility of Pakistan finally gaining its much-cherished “strategic depth” in the war-torn country.

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