The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has asked India to end the development projects it had started in that country, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said on Sunday.
“We hope that with the update of the diplomatic mission, we will advance from the humanitarian aspect to the development aspects. And in this area, our priority which we have also transferred to the Indian side is the completion of some of the incomplete projects that India has done, as a first step,” Balkhi said in an interview with The Indian Express, a day before the first anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
August 15 has been declared a public holiday, but the Taliban regime’s celebrations will be low-key, restricted to an official media event. The main events may take place on September 1, the day the last foreign troops left Afghanistan last year.
Balkhi named the Shahtoot Dam in Kabul as one of the projects the Taliban wanted India to complete. “India has many different projects and they are incomplete. And we have urged them to complete them because, if they are not finished, everything will be wasted”, he said.
India recently reopened its embassy in Kabul, a year after closing it and evacuating all staff following the August 15, 2021 Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The mission is headed by an IFS officer of director rank, who is the official deputy chief of mission, and four other officers. An ITBP contingent has also been flown in for embassy security.
On Saturday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in Bangalore that India’s decision to restart the mission was to help the Afghan people by providing medical and humanitarian assistance and that India wanted to help in the area of vaccine development .
India’s development assistance to Afghanistan is estimated to exceed $3 billion over 20 years, including key roads, dams, power transmission lines and substations, schools and hospitals.
While Delhi has yet to make a statement on increasing its diplomatic presence in Kabul, Balkhi issued a statement on Saturday, saying the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), the formal name of the Taliban regime, “welcomes India’s move to improve its diplomatic representation.” in Kabul”. He said the regime would ensure security and offer “full cooperation”.
On Sunday, he reiterated that “security assurances, diplomatic immunities and all other necessary steps” had been given to India to upgrade the embassy.
“We are going in a very positive direction [with India]. They have reopened the embassy, they have sent their diplomats, they are looking to improve the level of representation here in the embassy, we have reopened flights between India and Afghanistan. We are working for Indian flights to come to us as well and currently there is Kam Air which has flights with India,” he said.
Balkhi said trade with India has “doubled” and “we are hopeful that moving forward through dialogue and engagement, we will address the remaining issues and concerns and come to a better stage.”
The IEA also wants India to work on connectivity projects, Balkhi said, “because we need to connect Central Asia with South Asia. Afghanistan is the closest and most efficient route in terms of connectivity area “.
He said that to revive connectivity through Iran’s Chabahar port, the Taliban regime “is trying to revive the trilateral mechanism. We have sent our proposal and our messages to the Indian and Iranian sites. And they are open to reviving the Chabahar route.” The Taliban regime is also keen to revive the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project.
Responding to a question on Pakistan’s denial of access through the land route to Afghanistan, he said it was an “India-Pakistan matter… On our part, we are open to all countries to take advantage of Afghanistan’s full potential when it comes to investment, minerals, trade, transit and connectivity”.
Balkhi, who lived abroad for several years and is fluent in English, said the IEA “do not take as fact the claims of the United States” about the presence of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri or the his assassination in Kabul two weeks ago. He said the official investigation announced by the regime is still ongoing.
Balkhi recalled a UN report that marked the presence of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, including those of direct concern to India, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba, Balkhi said the UN had a “history” of “false reporting” about Afghanistan. He noted a New York Times report on a new assessment by US intelligence agencies that Al Qaeda has not regrouped in Afghanistan and does not directly have the ability to carry out attacks.
“But the important thing is that the government of Afghanistan has a policy, which is that no individual or group will be able to use the territory of Afghanistan to threaten the security of others,” he said.
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Asked whether the Taliban had a formal position on the Kashmir issue, the spokesman said: “The policy of the new government of Afghanistan is that we do not interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. And we do not allow others to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan”.
Asked if it was the Taliban’s position that Kashmir was India’s internal problem, he said: “We consider it an internal problem of Kashmir and all other relevant parties.”
He said the “best way” to address India’s concerns about the Taliban was “through engagement, dialogue and interaction”.