Blinken discusses Afghan situation with Jaishankar again

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Secretary of State and India’s External Affairs Minister have agreed to continue coordination in Afghanistan, reports Arul Louis

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has discussed the situation in Afghanistan with India’s External Affairs Minister Jaishankar for a second time this week, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Price said that when the two leaders spoke on Thursday, they agreed to continue coordination in Afghanistan.

Blinken and Jaishankar last spoke on Monday, a day after the Taliban took control of Kabul.

Jaishankar was in New York for two days of UN Security Council programmes on protecting peacekeepers and fighting terrorism and was leaving the city on Thursday.

He told reporters at the UN that getting Indians trapped in Afghanistan was the Indian government’s priority and US controls Kabul airport, the main gateway out of the country.

“The immediate issue that we are looking at is really the repatriation of our nationals, in the case of India. India’s nationals, other countries have their concern.

“We are working with international partners in this regard, especially, principally the US because they control the airport,” he added.

After his call on Monday, Jaishankar tweeted that while discussing the latest developments in Afghanistan he “underlined the urgency of restoring airport operations in Kabul. Deeply appreciate the American efforts underway in this regard”.

Blinken got in touch with several Foreign Ministers on Thursday to discuss the Afghanistan situation, according to Price.

He had a videoconference with the Foreign Ministers of the G7 countries — the UK, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada — and Joseph Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

“All leaders underscored the imperative of safe passage for those who wish to leave Afghanistan and the need for an inclusive political resolution that protects the fundamental human rights of all Afghans,” Price said.

They also discussed counter-terrorism, humanitarian efforts, and refugee migration, he added.

Taliban wanted India to retain its diplomatic presence

As it became apparent earlier this week that New Delhi planned to bring back its officials from Kabul, senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai reached out to the Indian side with a surprise request: Would India retain its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan?

The request was conveyed informally by the Taliban leader, who is part of the leadership of the group’s political office at Doha in Qatar, shortly before India evacuated some 200 people – including its envoy, diplomats, security personnel and citizens–in two military flights on Monday and Tuesday.

Stanekzai, who is seen as the number two in the Taliban’s negotiating team and third overall among leaders based in Qatar, has been critical of India’s role in Afghanistan in the past, and the message took Indian officials in New Delhi and Kabul by surprise, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.

He conveyed to the Indian side in his informal message that the group was aware of Indian concerns regarding the security situation in Kabul following the Taliban takeover on Sunday, but that it should not worry about the safety of its mission and diplomats in the Afghan capital, the people said.

More specifically, Stanekzai referred to reports that fighters from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) were in Kabul and deployed at check posts set up by the Taliban on the route to the airport, and contended that all check posts, including those at the airport, were firmly in the hands of the Taliban, the people added.

A quick assessment done by the Indian side and its Afghan counterparts came to the conclusion that the request from the Taliban side could not be taken at face value and that the evacuation of the Indian diplomats and others should go ahead as planned, the people said.

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