Taliban Want to Continue Political, Trade Ties With India, Leader Stanekzai Says

After reaching out to India to retain its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan recently, Taliban leader Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai once again made the effort to highlight Afghanistan’s political, economic and cultural ties with the country and expressed an interest in maintaining them. This is the first time a member of the military group’s top hierarchy has spoken on the issue since taking over Kabul, reported Hindustan Times.

Posted on the Taliban’s social media, in a video, Stanekzai in Pashto spoke about the end of the war in Afghanistan and plans for forming an Islamic administration based on Shariah. He also spoke about relations with key countries in the region, including India, Pakistan, China and Russia, the Hindustan Times reported.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan in a stunning coup, following the departure of US military forces after 20 years. In an exclusive interview to CNN-News18 a couple of days ago, the group’s spokesperson Suhail Shaheen has talked about India’s investments in Afghanistan, and its close ties with the “puppet” government of Ashraf Ghani. Stanekzai, too, has been known to criticise India over its role in Afghanistan.

However, in the report by Hindustan Times, Stanekzai was quoted as saying, “India is very important for this subcontinent. We want to continue our cultural, economic and trade ties with India like in the past… Trade with India through Pakistan is very important for us. With India, trade through air corridors will also remain open.”

The top Taliban leader, however, did not say anything about a two-way trade. In the CNN-News18 interview, too, Shaheen had said projects for the benefit of Afghans must be completed if under construction.

India has had investments in Afghanistan over the past 20 years — from roads, dams to even the parliament building. According to reports, it has invested $3 billion in development projects, offered scholarships to Afghan students, and helped construct the parliament building at a cost of $90 million.

However, analysts said the Taliban takeover could spell doom for India, which cultivated close ties with the outgoing government. It is a major diplomatic setback for India, as its massive presence in the South Asian region is the “most disadvantaged”, as reported by Al Jazeera.

“India has gone from being Kabul’s closest regional partner to one of the region’s most disadvantaged players in an Afghanistan context,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the US-based Wilson Center, was quoted as saying.

In the report, Happymon Jacob from Jawaharlal Nehru University, was also quoted: “I think India seems to be out of the game in Afghanistan.”

He told Al Jazeera that Indian had played a positive role in Afghanistan in the last 20 years, but now that diplomacy was almost “non-existent”, and that its stakes had “dramatically decreased”.

As reported by Hindustan Times, Stanekzai, who underwent pre-commission training at Indian Military Academy in Dehradun as a foreign cadet in the 1980s, also spoke about relations with China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Russia, while thanking Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees and said Afghanistan wanted to have “brotherly relations” with Pakistan.

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