S Jaishankar, Iran Foreign Minister Talk Ties In Context of Afghan Conflict
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S Jaishankar, Iran Foreign Minister Talk Ties In Context of Afghan Conflict

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NEW DELHI: Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar spoke to his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on Wednesday against the backdrop of intense fighting raging between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in Afghanistan.

“Good to talk to Iranian FM @JZarif. A productive conversation on our ties,” said a Twitter post from Jaishankar. There were no further details.

India and Iran, besides Russia, were the main backers of an anti-Taliban alliance when the Pakistan-based hardline group was in control of Kabul and large swathes of Afghanistan between 1996-2001. The three countries had helped fund the anti-Taliban alliance in Afghanistan that was once headed by Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Masood.

Masood was assassinated on 9 September 2001, two days before the 9/11 attacks in the US that caused the US-led forces to begin their war against terrorism in October 2001. The Taliban were driven out of Kabul in November 2001, but it regrouped several years later and is now posing a major challenge to the Ashraf Ghani government.

With the Taliban making rapid military advances, Jaishankar has in recent weeks been to Iran and Russia for talks with his counterparts with analysts expressing doubts over whether the three countries could regroup to resist the Taliban.

Iran’s main worry is a flood of refugees streaming into the country from Afghanistan in case the Taliban takes control. In recent days, Tehran has closed its borders with Afghanistan with the Iranian military keeping a close watch on the border and developments within Afghanistan, according to news reports. Shia majority Iran has also been holding talks with the Sunni Taliban for the past several years. Tehran has also hosted representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban for peace talks.

Russia too has been holding talks with the Taliban. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month that Moscow would not take action against the Taliban as long as the unrest within Afghanistan is contained within Afghan borders, i.e., Russia’s “underbelly” or the Central Asian states that are Muslim majority countries are not affected.

India has been supporting the Afghan government in Kabul headed by President Ashraf Ghani. Afghan Army chief General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai is expected in New Delhi next week. Wali’s 27-30 July visit is expected to coincide with the visit of US secretary of state Antony Blinken to New Delhi. Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Farid Mamundzay, has said that the Kabul government expects military hardware support from the US and India to defeat the Taliban.

On its part, the Taliban has said that it expects India to play a neutral role in Afghanistan. The group’s Doha based spokesman Sohail Shaheen said in an interview to Mint last week that “India should remain neutral and should not support the current Kabul administration with military hardware which are ultimately used against the people of Afghanistan and destruction of the country. This is not good for their image and people’s perception of them.”

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