Afghanistan: CIA chief, Russian security head in Delhi

Afghanistan: CIA chief, Russian security head in Delhi

High-level delegations in capital as Moscow, Washington reach out amid Afghan crisis

India is in “close contact” with both Moscow and Washington over developments in Afghanistan, official sources said, with two high-level intelligence delegations to Delhi this week.

The Hindu has learnt that an American delegation of intelligence and security officials, led by Chief of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) William Burns, is visiting the region including India and Pakistan, and held consultations with National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval on Tuesday to discuss a number of issues arising from the Afghanistan evacuation effort and Taliban government formation.

On Wednesday, the Russian Secretary of the Security Council General Nikolay Patrushev will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, NSA Doval and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, the MEA announced.

Both the MEA and the U.S. Embassy declined to confirm or deny the visit of Mr. Burns, when asked for a response by The Hindu.

The separate meetings with U.S. and Russian officials in South Block come as the Taliban announced an acting or interim government led by Mohammad Hasan Akhund, and Abdul Ghani Baradar as deputy Prime Minister. They are also significant given upcoming summits that Prime Minister Modi will attend of the SCO and Quad formations, where Russia and the U.S. play leading roles respectively, and both are expected to focus on the future course in Afghanistan.

While Mr. Modi will attend the SCO meeting on September 16 via videoconference, he is expected to travel in person to the United States for the Quad meeting slated for September 24. On Thursday, he will also host a virtual summit of BRICS countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where Mr. Doval will make a presentation on security issues.

The visit of General Patrushev, the highest-ranking Russian security official who has been Security Council Secretary since 2008, and headed the Russian intelligence agency FSB earlier, follows a telephone conversation between PM Modi and President Putin on August 24 to discuss the developments in Afghanistan days after the Taliban claimed control of Kabul.

“The two leaders had expressed the view that it was important for the two strategic partners to work together and instructed their senior officials to remain in touch on Afghanistan,” the MEA statement said. A diplomatic source said that General Patrushev’s meetings would give India and Russia a chance to “exchange perspectives” on the changing situation in Afghanistan.

Amid divisions

The visits are also significant as they come at a time of growing differences between the U.S. and Russian positions on Afghanistan despite more than two years of coordinating at the “Troika-plus” mechanism that included China and Pakistan. Last week, Russia accused U.S.-led western countries of rushing through UN Security Council resolution 2593 that India presided over, and of not paying due attention to its concerns on the Islamic State (IS based in Iraq and Syria) and the “Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement” (ETIM), which Russia and China said are threats to Central Asian security, on freezing Afghan reserves, which Russia says will create a humanitarian crisis, and criticising major evacuation efforts of qualified Afghan nationals, which it says would lead to a “brain drain” in the country.

Russia is also one of six countries maintaining their embassies in Kabul, indicating they are more open to engaging formally with the Taliban government, whereas the U.S. and allies have moved their embassies to Doha.

India watchful

Taking a different tack on evacuations, the U.S. has flown out more than 1,20,000 people, mainly Afghans, and is still attempting to help more to leave, and needs secure holding areas in other countries while they process their papers to the U.S. According to sources, Mr. Burns discussed the possibility of bringing some of the evacuees to India, although it is unclear if New Delhi would accept the proposal.

India has been conservative in its evacuation efforts thus far, bringing out a total of 565 people, including 112 Afghan nationals on special military flights, and has not issued more than a few dozen special “e-visas” for thousands of Afghans who have applied thus far.

Mr. Burns, a former diplomat who earlier visited India as the key nuclear deal negotiator, is one of a number of U.S. military and security officials who have visited New Delhi in the last few months. He had visited Kabul on August 23 and met with Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, according to a report in the Washington Post, which was not denied.

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