Amid uncertainty over whether the Afghanistan Embassy in Delhi would shut down in the coming week, India took part in the nine-nation “Moscow Format” meeting, which included the Taliban’s Acting Foreign Minister as an invitee, in the Russian city of Kazan on September 30. Special envoys from Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran, and Central Asian states also took part in the meeting.
The regional grouping repeated its previous demands that the Taliban form a “truly inclusive government” and accord equal rights and freedoms to all Afghans, including women. However, it failed to make headway on the issue or extract any promise from the Taliban representatives on a timeline for government formation or on restarting girl’s education.
“[The participants] regretfully stated that there had been no progress in forming a truly inclusive government in Afghanistan, reflecting the interests of all ethno-political groups of the country,” said the ‘Kazan Declaration’, issued at the end of the meeting.
“The participants spoke out for respect of fundamental rights and freedoms in Afghanistan, including equal rights to work, education and justice, without distinction as to gender, ethnicity or religion, and stressed upon their concern about imposed restrictions on women’s employment and girls’ education,” it added.
The participants also “gave assurances to continue providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan” and emphasized the need to “strengthen bilateral and multilateral economic ties”, the declaration said.
Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, whose regime had called for more economic support and for a move towards political recognition of the Taliban, formerly a UN-designated terrorist organisation, said the administration in Kabul was ready to engage with the world on the basis of “common legitimate interests”.
“In the last 45 years no foreign prescriptions have solved the problems of Afghanistan,” Mr. Muttaqi said at the meeting, according to the social media posts by the Taliban spokesperson.
No country recognises the Taliban regime as a legitimate government, but all the Moscow Format countries and representatives from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkiye, and Qatar, who attended as observers, maintain missions in Kabul.
While India closed its embassy when the Taliban took over in August 2021, it reopened it as a “technical mission” in June 2022, with officials regularly meeting Taliban Ministers to discuss humanitarian assistance and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.
At the Moscow Format, India was represented by the Ambassador to Russia, Pavan Kapoor, as the special envoy who normally attends the format, Joint Secretary for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran J.P. Singh, is in the U.S. accompanying External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
As The Hindu has reported over the past week, the Modi government is grappling with a controversy as the Afghan Embassy in Delhi, still manned by diplomats loyal to the pre-Taliban democratic government, announced that it was shutting down. A note verbale issued by the embassy alleged that India failed to respond to requests for support and visa facilitation for the embassy, accusing the government of softening its stand against the Taliban since it reopened the Kabul mission. The last remaining diplomats have sought time to meet Mr. Singh next week, said sources, even as the consulates in Mumbai and Hyderabad have distanced themselves from the embassy’s accusations.
The External Affairs Minister declined to comment on whether Mr. Kapoor met Muttaqi on the sidelines of the Moscow Format, and whether there were any discussions over the staffing of the embassy.
According to the Taliban’s social media handles, Muttaqi met the special representatives of China and Pakistan, Yu Xiang and Asif Durrani, together, and discussed the security situation and border tensions with Pakistan. He also met delegations from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took aim at the United States, which has refused invitations to join the Moscow format since it was first held in 2017, and discussed the need to release frozen funds belonging to Afghanistan’s previous government for assistance to the country.
“The prevailing point of view was that it was crucial to immediately and unconditionally unblock the Afghan assets by Washington and its allies, who bear the main responsibility for the post-conflict reconstruction of the Afghan economy, and that any return of US and NATO military structures to the territory of Afghanistan or its neighboring states under any pretext was unacceptable,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.