Taliban trying to normalise ties, install appointees in India: Afghan diplomat

Taliban trying to normalise ties, install appointees in India: Afghan diplomat

Afghanistan’s acting Permanent Representative to the United Nations Naseer Ahmad Faiq acknowledged the reports on the Taliban’s attempt to appoint a replacement for Zakia Wardak, former Consul General in Mumbai

Days after Afghanistan’s most senior diplomat in India resigned over charges of smuggling, diplomats still loyal to the previous democratic regime in Kabul warn that the Taliban is making another attempt to install a nominee in India, and urged India and other countries not to “normalise” ties with the Taliban. The warnings came amidst turmoil within Afghanistan’s Delhi Embassy and Consulates in Mumbai and Hyderabad and a scandal involving a top diplomat accused of smuggling gold, that has left the missions in India practically leader-less.

“Normalisation and recognition should not occur until they take tangible actions aligned with the demands of the Afghan people and the international community, focusing on the formation of an inclusive system based on the will of the people, justice, and the rule of law,” Afghanistan’s acting Permanent Representative to the United Nations Naseer Ahmad Faiq told The Hindu, pointing to many countries in the region that have now accepted Taliban appointed diplomats, although no country in the world has at present recognised the Taliban government. Afghanistan’s Embassies in China, Pakistan, Iran, the UAE and several Central Asian countries are now headed by Taliban-appointed diplomats, who replaced those appointed by the previous Ashraf Ghani government. However, the United Nations has refused to grant accreditation to new diplomats at the UN mission, citing the Taliban’s unkept promises on inclusive government, human rights and education and employment rights to women and girls.

Diplomatic sources confirmed to The Hindu this week that the Afghanistan Embassy in Delhi has also received documents appointing an India-based Afghan academic reportedly cleared by the Taliban Foreign Ministry in Kabul for the post of Acting Consul General in Mumbai. If granted permission by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the academic, who is currently pursuing a PhD at the South Asian University in Delhi, could become the first Taliban-appointed diplomat to take office at Afghan missions in India.

A similar attempt to appoint a Charge d’Affaires was thwarted last year after local staff locked the Embassy gates and refused to allow Qadir Shah, who was carrying a letter from the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, into the premises in May 2023. In September, the previous regime’s Ambassador Farid Mamundzay then announced he was leaving India and shutting down the embassy owing to a “lack of support” from the MEA, accusing New Delhi of softening its position towards the Taliban that took Kabul by force in August 2021. However, the Embassy was kept open for consular services for approximately 25,000 Afghans living in India, with a skeletal staff of about a dozen, and was run jointly by Mumbai Consul General Zakia Wardak, a political appointee from the previous Ghani government who had also been engaging with the Taliban regime in Kabul, and Hyderabad Consul General Sayed Mohammad Ibrahimkhil.

Mr. Faiq acknowledged the reports on the new consul’s appointment attempt in India, saying that the Taliban is “inserting people” into missions worldwide as a means to “gain recognition” .

The MEA declined to comment on the latest developments, and officials said they were not aware of the attempt by the Taliban to appoint a diplomat in India. Since reopening the Indian Embassy in Kabul in June 2022, the government has been engaging regularly with Taliban officials, and the MEA’s Joint Secretary for Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan J.P. Singh met with the Taliban Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi most recently in March this year.

The post of the Mumbai Consul General was left vacant this month after Ms. Wardak resigned suddenly on May 5, after she was accused of attempting to smuggle gold into India. According to officials, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) that had been tracking Ms. Wardak found gold bars on her person during a check after she landed in Mumbai on April 25. The bars, allegedly estimated to be worth ₹18 crore were confiscated, but Ms. Wardak was allowed to proceed as she claimed diplomatic immunity. In her resignation letter, Ms. Wardak said that she was the target of “numerous personal attacks and defamation… which appear to be organised”, and could not continue in her post.

Calling Ms. Wardak’s case an “embarrassment” for all Afghan diplomatic missions, Mr. Faiq said that “nepotism and corruption were among the greatest challenges under the former Republic [Ghani government] and this still exists under the Taliban regime”.

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