The Mystery of Afghan Embassy
India and Afghanistan, were two friendly nations, which have shared a historical relationship ever since the signing of the Treaty of Friendship in 1950. The cordial ties were further strengthened with the milestone agreement of the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed in 2011. Over the decades, ever since these Agreements, both countries have given priority to enhancing the people-to-people relationship.
India kept its post-9/11 Afghan policy completely in sync with the principles mandated under the Bonn Agreement of 2001.
Reflecting on the history of India-Taliban’s engagement during the period 1996-2001, it marks a stark contrast, following the Taliban’s gaining power in 2021. It was a black hole in the history of Afghanistan-India diplomatic relations when the Taliban ruled the country in 1996 as India was forced to shut its embassy and consulates in Afghanistan. India was not ready to engage with the Taliban based on principles and had refused to support a 2007 initiative of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai to engage with the “good Taliban” in the peace process. “Some make a distinction between ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’ – I don’t, because I’ve seen the Taliban, they have only one cult– the cult of violence,” the then Foreign Minister of India Pranab Mukherjee had said.
India was not prepared to send a serving diplomat to attend the Russia-sponsored peace conference in Moscow with the Taliban in 2018. Every participant country had deputed their serving representatives, but New Delhi chose to nominate former Indian envoys to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Amar Sinha and TCA Raghavan respectively, to attend the conference at the “non-official level”.
It is important to note that India kept its post-9/11 Afghan policy completely in sync with the principles mandated under the Bonn Agreement of 2001.
This being the attitude of India for not engaging with the Taliban in the past, today there has been a sudden shift in the policy of India with the induction of Taliban-affiliated diplomats in the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi. With the Taliban’s ascendency to power in 2021, India closed its Embassy in the same year in Kabul. The relations with the Taliban intensified in 2022 paving the way to reopen India’s technical mission to oversee the humanitarian aid assistance for the Afghan people.
India stopped issuing visas to any of the Afghan diplomats appointed by the legitimate government of Afghanistan but offered them free visas to exit.
What was India’s Stand?
As per the press statement issued by the Embassy of Afghanistan on September 30, 2023, it stated, “reduction in personnel and resources: Due to unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances, there has been a significant reduction in both personnel and resources available to us, making it increasingly challenging to continue operations. The lack of timely and sufficient support from visa renewal for diplomats to other critical areas of cooperation led to an understandable frustration within our team and impeded our ability to carry out routine duties effectively”.
India stopped issuing visas to any of the Afghan diplomats appointed by the legitimate government of Afghanistan but offered them free visas to exit. This clearly indicated India’s reluctance to permit Afghan diplomats to stay in New Delhi. This amounted to the diplomats being shown the door for exit. India did not provide a ‘No Objection Certificate (NOC)’ to Ambassador Farid Mamundzay, applicable in the case of ordinary citizens of Afghanistan seeking entry into India. Failing to show due courtesy to the ambassador accredited to India by a legally elected Government who has presented his credentials to the President of India was definitely not expected of India with its standing and reputation in the comity of nations.
This amounted to the Government of India legally expelling all the diplomats including the Ambassador appointed by a legitimate government. It seems India had taken a decision to expel the diplomatic personnel manning the embassy before it could induct the Taliban-affiliated diplomats, a government that has not been recognised by the United Nations (UN) or any other country in the world including India. The question is, can a dispensation calling itself the Government of a country nominate an Ambassador? If not, can India nominate an ambassador of a foreign country?
Seeking tactical advantages, the Hyderabad and Mumbai Consulars, apparently had discussions with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and gained entry into the Afghan Embassy on November 23, 2023, and Zakia Wardak, the Mumbai Consular issued the following statement: “We met officials from the MEA and the local staff of the Afghan Embassy in Delhi and have given them the assurance that the Embassy will continue to work for the people of Afghanistan”. Consul Generals of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Mumbai, Ms. Zakia Wardak and Acting Consul General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Hyderabad, Mr. Sayed Mohammad Ibrahimkhil have assumed the leadership of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, New Delhi”.
“Our consulates in Mumbai and Hyderabad are functioning and in contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and delivering routine consular services,” said Shir Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister, in his interview the RTA (National Radio Television Afghanistan) aired last week. He added that Consuls at both missions moved to New Delhi earlier this week and reopened offices at the Afghan Embassy. “God willing, our Embassy will resume regular services in two to three days.” The clarity of Taliban-led Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister’s statement leaves no space for any ambiguity. The inducted diplomats are Taliban, a terrorist-led organisation.
The Afghan Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay representing the Republic Government of Afghanistan had earlier announced the permanent closure of the Embassy with effect from November 23 citing the lack of the Government of India’s cooperation and the mounting pressure from the Taliban. Ambassador Farid Mamundzay’s statement read “The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in New Delhi regrets to announce the permanent closure of its diplomatic mission in New Delhi, effective from 23 November 2023, owing to persistent challenges from the Indian government”.“This decision follows the Embassy’s earlier cessation of operations on 30th September 2023, a move made in the hope that the Indian government’s stance would evolve favorably for the normal continuation of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in New Delhi”.
The Afghan Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay representing the Republic Government of Afghanistan had earlier announced the permanent closure of the Embassy with effect from November 23…
It is important to understand how did this change take place? The prerogative to appoint an ambassador or change in leadership of any country rests on the parent country and not on the receiving country as per the Vienna Convention of 1961. In this case, the onus is on the legitimate Government of Afghanistan which has been captured employing the power of the gun by the Taliban, a terrorist organisation in 2021. How can the two Islamic Emirate-affiliated diplomats with their sympathies aligned to a terror outfit take charge of the Afghan Embassy and on whose direction?
Ambassador Farid Mamundzay was appointed by the legally elected Government of Afghanistan and whose credentials have been sanctified by the President of India in 2021. He has not resigned yet. The question is, on what basis and under whose leadership is the present embassy being run? Afghan embassy manned by personnel affiliated with a terrorist outfit cannot be left leaderless and without control especially with the Vienna convention categorically stating that the territory of the Embassy cannot be trespassed on or intruded upon. This would pose a huge security threat to India.
The problem with the Taliban is that they seem not sure of what their larger interests are. Or, are they planning to promote Jihad in India as a part of their larger agenda?
It is not clear how these Taliban-oriented officials manning the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi would turn out to be when they are inside India at the Embassy. We have the example of the Pakistan Embassy where the Embassy staff made full use of the Vienna convention recruiting people, paying Kashmiri militants and carrying out anti-India activities from inside the Embassy premises. India doesn’t need a similar situation to the Taliban Embassy in India.
The 14th Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring report published in May 2023, delves into deeper details of the Taliban’s intensifying terrorism-related activities. Taliban it appears are inviting and inducting foreign terrorists inside Afghanistan. All the terrorists seem to have congregated in the northern parts of Afghanistan. Why the northern part? It provides access to Central Asia which opens the gateway for China’s Xinjiang and Russia besides access to Iran. Easy access and the bank of terrorists available in the Northern parts of Afghanistan facilitate the US’ larger interests of containing China and Russia. The Kabul group of Taliban which controls the Northern parts of Afghanistan is said to be more amenable than the Kandahar group.
The US has been seeking a base ostensibly to keep a watch on the Taliban and carry out anti-terror operations from countries of the region, namely, the Central Asian countries, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan without any success.
In 2022, the US has released 3.5 billion USD out of the frozen assets belonging to the Taliban and it is being rumoured that they have also released some finances out of the sanctioned portion to the Haqqani network. Why did the US release the funds? It is possible that it may be some sort of an incentive to the Taliban to provide them the base which US has been seeking ever since it departed from Afghanistan handing over the country to the terror outfit which it had sought to destroy, the very purpose of US’ attack on the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.
The US has been seeking a base ostensibly to keep a watch on the Taliban and carry out anti-terror operations from countries of the region, namely, the Central Asian countries, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan without any success. It is possible that the Taliban might have sought the US’ recognition of Afghanistan led by Taliban and helping Afghanistan to post its diplomats in India, which would influence the global south to recognise Taliban-led Afghanistan, as a quid pro quo.
The US strategy is based on certain assumptions— that without the Taliban’s support, it cannot contain China from the South. The US Indo-Pacific strategy cannot take off without India’s participation. But let it be clear that India will be used in its mission against China along with Taiwan, Japan, Philippines and possibly Vietnam besides Australia in the Indo-Pacific. These countries will become yet another Ukraine in the US scheme of things. However, India is trying to maintain its ‘strategic autonomy’. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) which was initiated by the US failed to translate into a military alliance because of India. It seems India succumbs to US pressure with the acceptance to investigate the Gurupatwant Singh Panun case.
Taliban’s Attempt to Gain International Recognition
It seems that the US is hesitant to take the lead in recognizing the Taliban and in case if the US does it, the world who are already criticizing the US for handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban will lose its credibility. Viewing from the recent case of Gurupatwant Singh Panun, and Canadian Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar where the US has been building up pressure against India, it is possible, without recognising the Taliban directly and to speed up the process of legitimising Taliban rule in Afghanistan, most likely, the US might have directed or pressured India to accept Taliban linked representatives in the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi.
In April, this year Taliban appointed Qadir Shah as the Charge de affaires in the Afghan Embassy. The Taliban government’s main spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid communicated through a video message stating that “The Islamic Emirate has sent diplomats to at least 14 countries and efforts are underway to take charge of other diplomatic missions abroad”. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has so far taken control of 14 diplomatic missions abroad which include; Iran, Pakistan, China, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Russia other Arab and African countries.
Interestingly, the Government of India has not issued a statement on the Afghan Embassy issue till now. Do we now assume that the Taliban is no more a terrorist organisation?
The Taliban coup was unsuccessful. The Embassy issued a statement stating that it ‘categorically rejects the claims from an individual claiming to have taken charge of the mission in New Delhi at the behest of the Taliban’. In May there was continuous pressure built on the Afghan Ambassador Farid Mamundzay by the Government to remove him from office. Finally, it is believed that the Government of India did not provide visas to the Afghan diplomats including the Ambassador with a clear indication to welcome Taliban-appointed diplomats in the Afghan Embassy. Interestingly, the Government of India has not issued a statement on the Afghan Embassy issue till now.
Do we now assume that the Taliban is no more a terrorist organisation?
Did Taliban distance itself from Terrorism?
The Fourteenth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted to the UNSC, pursuant to resolution 2665 (2022) concerning the Taliban and other associated individuals and entities constituting a threat to the peace stability and security of Afghanistan. The report states, “The present Monitoring Team report, the first in which the Taliban have been in power for the entirety of the reporting period, finds that the Taliban leadership shows no signs of bending to pressure for reform or compromise, in the hope of earning international political recognition. They are unchecked by any meaningful political opposition”.
The report further emphasizes that “the presence of foreign terrorist fighters harboured by the Taliban, has become an increasing security threat to many neighbouring countries. This anxiety did not lessen with the killing of Al-Qaida leader, Aiman al-Zawahiri in a Kabul guesthouse connected to Taliban acting Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani in July 2022. To many of the interlocutors consulted for this report, that single event speaks volumes as to the credibility of Taliban commitments to break with terrorist groups as stated in the Doha Agreement”.
The report released by the National Resistance Force (NRF) on 22 September 2022, based on its strategic communication analysis unit, corroborates some of the details provided by Lt Gen Haibatullah Alizai. According to the National Resistance Front (NRF), the Taliban has transferred 16 high-ranking members of foreign terrorist groups from different areas to Kabul and then to Baghlan, Kunduz and Badakhshan provinces.
Information indicates, Haji Forqan, the leader of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) Mawlawi Ibrahim, the head of the Ansarullah Jamaat of Tajikistan, Shaikh Zakir, the head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Abdul HaqUighuri, the head of the Al Qaeda branch in the north of Afghanistan, came to Kabul on Tuesday, August 20, 2022, and stayed threedays in Haji Afzal house in Wazir Akbar Khan, on 11th Street which is owned by the Haqqani network.
How can India recalibrate its Afghan policy for a semblance of its presence in Afghanistan despite the Taliban being a terrorist organisation and being in power?
According to NRF’s strategic communication analysis unit, “They met Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, and discussed their plans to make the network of foreign fighters extremely powerful in the north of the country in the next six months and to deploy 50 per cent of all foreign fighters in Central Asia,” he elaborated.
In these meetings, Abdul Haq from Haji Forqan Network and Shaikh Zakir from IMU assumed the responsibility of strengthening Al Qaeda and communicating with other branches of the group. Based on the decisions made in Haqqani’s house, more foreign fighters from different regional and Arabic countries are coming to Afghanistan.
It is noteworthy that Mawlawi Ibrahim Tajik has been appointed as the person in charge of the network of foreign fighters in the north of the country by the Haqqani network, who has strong connections with ISIS.
The reliable documents and information, Mawlawi Ibrahim is expected to work secretly and in a coordinated manner with the Haqqani network to assist ISIS in northern Afghanistan and slowly increase its influence through Kunduz province and the border districts of Takhar and Badakhshan to the Central Asian countries.
In the same way, Haji Forqan, Shaikh Zakir and Abdul HaqUyghuri are expected to lead a large part of the al Qaeda network in northern Afghanistan and, in this way, provide the biggest threat to the neighbouring countries, the region and the world.
Brookings Institution states that since August 2021, new foreign fighters have come in from the Middle East, Pakistan, and Central Asia in considerable numbers, according to Western officials with whom the author of the write-up seems to have spoken in the spring and summer of 2022.
This too corroborates news that the number of foreign militants in Afghanistan has increased since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. Haibatullah Alizai, who was Chief of Staff for the army at the time the capital city of Kabul fell to the Taliban in Aug 2021, who currently lives in the US told PTI in an interview that “I believe that the situation in Afghanistan is very critical and dangerous and it’s going in a dangerous direction, which could be a civil war again, or which could be a split to Afghanistan because you see that in last two years Afghanistan has been controlled by the terrorists and it has fallen into terrorist hands,”
In case the UN recognises the Taliban-led Government as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, then India should not have any issue in recognising the Taliban-led Afghanistan.
The more important issue at hand remains: How can India recalibrate its Afghan policy for a semblance of its presence in Afghanistan despite the Taliban being a terrorist organisation and being in power?
What should be India’s Policy towards Afghanistan?
India emerged as the 5th largest regional aid donor to Afghanistan since 2001. Till late 2021 India had spent almost $3 billion on various developmental and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
New Delhi has garnered a positive image by assisting Afghanistan in rebuilding infrastructure, and health facilities, providing educational scholarships and economic development activities through trade. India must maintain people-oriented good relations with Afghanistan and continue aid and assistance and support women and girls in education.
India’s broader effort must focus on only recognising Afghanistan after a legitimate Government takes charge and due discussion takes place and UN member countries recognise Afghanistan. Appoint an Afghan ambassador nominated by a legitimate government and not by a Government which had captured power through its acts of terrorism.
In case the UN recognises the Taliban-led Government as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, then India should not have any issue in recognising the Taliban-led Afghanistan. In the absence of all these, India needs to have the Afghan embassy led by Ambassador Farid Mumunzaiy appointed by the legitimate government of President Ghani to address the concerns of Afghan refugees which is more than 35 thousand in number living in India. They require huge support and help. There are a large number of Afghan people who want to come to India for education, medical treatment, trade etc. Therefore, there is a need for an Afghan Embassy in India with an Ambassador, Afghan officials and local staff but not Taliban linked.
The Government of India must support the Afghan Embassy appointed by the Republic of Afghanistan. The Ambassador of Afghanistan to India, Farid Mamundzay need to be given due respect and he cannot be treated as an ordinary Afghan or a suspect Afghan. The Afghan embassy with a legitimate Ambassador will represent the people of Afghanistan.
India must expel the Taliban-affiliated diplomats and employees from the Afghan Embassy premises and they must be investigated for their activities in India.
India must expel the Taliban-affiliated diplomats and employees from the Afghan Embassy premises and they must be investigated for their activities in India. Afghan-affiliated officials who do not belong to India must be sent back to their country of origin.
The embassy also made an “unequivocal statement” stating that certain consulates that work on the instructions and funding from Kabul are not in consonance with the objectives of a legitimate or elected government but rather serve the interests of an “illegitimate regime”.“Those with ties to the Taliban are aligning themselves with Taliban and also Delhi’s interests”.
India’s security interests cannot be compromised by Taliban-appointed diplomats in New Delhi. A policy thought through in its entirety needs to be implemented based on the country’s interests and not based on individual interests or bureaucratic considerations. The Afghan Ambassador Farid Mamundzay must be called back and he must be made accountable and full cooperation and support must be provided to him by the Government of India.
For decades, Afghanistan has been victimized by devastating conflicts that have left a damaging legacy of suffering. Furthermore, the Taliban’s coming back to power has aggravated mass displacement, humanitarian crisis, and violations of human rights and the rule of law above all Afghan women and girls have been barred from receiving education since 2021.