Jaishankar discusses Afghanistan situation with Iran President

Jaishankar discusses Afghanistan situation with Iran President

Minister to meet Qatari special envoy in Delhi on Saturday

Iran would welcome an Indian role in stabilising Afghanistan, said Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi, during a meeting with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in Tehran, where the Minister attended Mr. Raisi’s swearing-in ceremony.

Mr. Jaishankar will meet Qatar’s special envoy on Afghanistan on Saturday, adding to a series of meetings on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

“Iran and India can play a constructive and useful role in ensuring security in the region, especially Afghanistan, and Tehran welcomes New Delhi’s role in establishment of security in Afghanistan,” a statement from the Iranian President’s office said after the meeting on Friday. “The fate of Afghanistan must be decided by the Afghans themselves, and we believe that if the Americans do not sabotage the situation, this issue will be resolved quickly,” Dr. Raisi said.

Mr. Jaishankar’s Tehran visit comes on the back of a number of engagements with Iran in an effort to improve flagging bilateral ties as well as to find a common course on Afghanistan. Mr. Jaishankar visited Tehran last on July 7, and met Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the same time as a Taliban delegation was in the city, also to hold consultations with Mr. Zarif. On July 21, Iran’s official agency IRNA reported that the two Ministers spoke on the telephone to discuss the rapid developments in Afghanistan, where the U.S troops were completing their pullout amidst a rapid escalation in violence by the Taliban forces who are attacking different cities, including Kandahar, Lashkar Gah, Herat and Kunduz.

Meanwhile, Qatari special envoy for Counterterrorism and Mediation of Conflict Resolution Mutlaq Bin Majed Al-Qahtani arrived in Delhi on a two-day visit on Friday, and met the Ministry of Extenal Affairs’ (MEA) official in charge of Pakistan-Afghanistan-India Joint Secretary J.P. Singh.

In June last, it was Mr. Qahtani who had given the first official confirmation that Indian officials were in talks with Taliban representatives based in Doha. Subsequently, the MEA confirmed that India is engaging “various stakeholders” in Afghanistan, and government sources said they had made contact with some Taliban factions.

Reconciliation process in Doha

While the meetings are likely to focus on the reconciliation process in Doha, where the Intra-Afghan dialogue has hit an impasse, New Delhi is also expected to point out that despite being regional powers, neither India nor Iran had been included yet in the meetings of the “Troika Plus” grouping of U.S.-Russia-China and Pakistan, due to be held in Doha on August 11. Both India and Iran have stressed on the “legitimacy” of the democratically-elected Ghani government in Afghanistan.

In a tweet after the meeting with Mr. Raisi, Mr. Jaishankar said that he “looked forward to working” with the new President’s team on bilateral ties.

“A warm meeting with President Ebrahim Raisi after his assumption of office. Conveyed the personal greetings of PM [Modi]. His commitment to strengthening our bilateral relationship was manifest. So too was the convergence in our regional interests,” he added.

According to the Iranian President’s office, Mr. Jaishankar said that the current level of relations “is not favourable, and we are determined to establish long-term cooperation in the interests of our nations, given the serious will of the Iranian side.”

Ties under strain

Ties between India and Iran have been traditionally strong, but appeared under strain in the past two years, after India decided to “zero out” its imports of Iranian oil after the Trump administration imposed new unilateral sanctions, as a result of which trade levels had dropped to more than a third of 2018 levels.

India has also been wary of the Iran-China 25-year $400-billion infrastructure partnership, even as Indian proposals to build the Chabahar-Zahedan railway and the Farzad-B gas field project were shelved in favour of local companies.

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