India agrees to attend Taliban talks in Moscow

New Delhi: In a departure from India’s stand on engaging the Taliban, New Delhi has announced it would participate at a “non-official” level, sending two former senior diplomats to attend talks on the Afghanistan peace process to be held in Russia on Thursday, The Hindu said.

It said the talks, known as the “Moscow format” will include a “high-level” delegation from the Taliban as well as a delegation of Afghanistan’s “High Peace Council”, along with twelve countries, including Pakistan, and will mark the first time an Indian delegation has been present at the table in talks with the Taliban representatives based in Doha.

“India supports all efforts at peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan that will preserve unity and plurality, and bring security, stability and prosperity to the country. India’s consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the Government of Afghanistan,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, adding that “our participation at the meeting will be at the non-official level.”

Sources told The Hindu that India will send two retired diplomats, Amar Sinha and TCA Raghavan as its representatives. While Mr Sinha was ambassador to Kabul, Mr Raghavan has held senior posts in the Ministry of External Affairs dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan and was High Commissioner to Islamabad and is currently the Director General of the government-run Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) think-tank based in Delhi.

The Russian government welcomed India’s decision to participate in the talks on Nov 9.

“We highly regard Indian support in the peace process in Afghanistan and welcome Indian readiness and that of other partner countries in the Moscow format,” the Russian Embassy said in a statement on Thursday.

About why India’s stand had undergone a shift vis-à-vis the Taliban, The Hindu quoted government officials as saying that the decision was the outcome of “close discussions with the Afghanistan government,” and it was felt necessary for India to have a “presence” there.

Analysts see the Modi government’s decision as a significant marker in the Afghan dialogue process, given that India has in the past declined to participate in the Moscow format with the Taliban unless the Afghan government participated.

A Russian proposal to hold the talks on Sept 4 had to be cancelled after the US pulled out, and the Ghani government opposed them, the paper said.

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