Regional NSAs to arrive on Tuesday for dialogue on Afghanistan

Security Czars of Russia, Iran and five Central Asian countries will arrive in Delhi on Tuesday ahead of the “Delhi regional security dialogue” on Afghanistan chaired by National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, who will also meet his counterparts bilaterally.

Officials involved in the dialogue said the meeting, which Pakistan and China have declined to participate, would seek to share a “common understanding of concerns” shared by Afghanistan’s neighbours due to the Taliban takeover on August 15 and build consensus on the way forward to deal with threats.

Also read: ‘Pak. decision not to attend NSAs’ meet unfortunate’

“The high-level dialogue will review deliberate upon measures to address relevant security challenges and support the people of Afghanistan in promoting peace, security and stability. India has called for a unified international response to address the security and humanitarian challenges facing Afghanistan,” said a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), referring to India’s traditional “close and friendly ties” with the people of Afghanistan.

Officials said the Chinese security chief had stated that he could not attend due to “scheduling difficulties”, ostensibly due to the CPC Central Committee plenum this week as well as strict quarantine regulations in China. Pakistan’s NSA had publicly declined the invitation. It had also refused to attend previous iterations of the regional NSA dialogue held in Iran in 2018 and 2019 as it did not want to share the forum with India, the officials said.

Also read: Pakistan, U.S. NSAs discuss Afghan settlement

No invitations were sent to the Taliban or to former leaders like Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the officials said, when asked.

In the past few months, Mr. Doval has engaged with each of the other security chiefs at various bilateral and multilateral summits, and these common threats include terrorism inside Afghanistan and its cross-border spread, worries of the Taliban ideology, radicalism and extremism being exported, the problems emanating from the large cache of military equipment left behind by U.S. and NATO forces when they left Afghanistan, cross-border migration and refugees, as well as the growing concerns over the production and export of drugs from the country, the officials noted.

In addition, sources said the countries participating had not “legitimised” the Taliban regime, and shared a common perception of Pakistan as one of the “sources of the problems” in Afghanistan with a “serious credibility gap” between its actions and intentions. Following the establishment of the Taliban’s “interim government” with Pakistan’s backing, it was felt that New Delhi’s role as a major development and trade partner to Kabul shrunk, but officials said that all participating countries had been “keen” for India to host the conference, to reinforce its “importance” in dealing with the challenges.

“Each of these countries bilaterally say there is convergence on worries, points of concern are very similar. Also our objectives in Afghanistan- we speak of diversity, respecting minority rights, culture of moderation and rational thought, all these other countries share with us,” the sources said. However, officials conceded there are some differences between the participants, given that Russia and Iran maintain embassies in Kabul, while countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have held bilateral talks with Taliban Ministers on issues like connectivity.

Limited interactions with Kabul

Indian officials have had limited interactions with the regime in Kabul, and met the Taliban leadership officially only twice. Given the security concerns, the government has not allowed Afghan refugees in large numbers, including members of the resistance or opposition to the Taliban. New Delhi has not announced any monetary aid for Afghanistan at donor conferences, and its proposal to send wheat and medicines by road to Afghanistan has been turned down by Pakistan. India still maintains a “small team” in Kabul for consular issues, according to an official.

“Our engagement with Taliban is commensurate with our own national requirements and interests so we will not replicate what others are doing. That judgement has to be left to the government,” an official said in response to a question from The Hindu.

The conference will be held on Wednesday morning in Delhi, but officials said plans for the visiting delegations were being made for their stay Tuesday-Thursday. Mr. Doval will meet his counterparts from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on Tuesday itself, and the others after the Regional Dialogue plenary session on Wednesday morning. Some of the delegations would travel to Amritsar and Agra for sightseeing, the officials said, adding that Mr. Doval would host them for a musical evening and dinner on Wednesday. All the eight participants will jointly call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well.

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