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Steps to resume ties with Afghanistan gather pace

Steps to resume ties with Afghanistan gather pace

Author: Our Political Bureau
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: November 22, 2001

India's diplomatic initiatives in Afghanistan gathered pace with special envoy, SK Lambah leading the first Indian diplomatic mission to Kabul today. Mr Lambah will also represent India at the forthcoming intra-Afghan talks in Berlin on the 26th, said sources.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, announcing the diplomatic mission to Kabul today in parliament, indicated the mission would hold talks with the Northern Alliance and take the first steps to reopening the Indian embassy after September 1996, when Taliban took over Kabul and India wound up its mission in Afghanistan.

The mission, which left early this morning by special IAF flight, landed at the Bagram airbase which has been secured by alliance troops. It will return tonight, leaving behind liaison officers, security and medical personnel. Apart from Mr Lambah, it includes Arun K Singh, from the MEA, senior officials from the defence ministry, eight doctors, interpreter, liaison officer, intelligence officers and security personnel. The team will also make an on-the-spot assessment of the state of the abandoned embassy and chancery buildings.

The liaison officer will remain behind to start an office in Kabul. Since India will reopen the dosed Indira Gandhi Hospital in the city after a gap of several years, the doctors and nurses will remain behind "for as long as required." The doctors are carrying medicines and prosthetics. The Jaipur Foot has had remark able success in a country riddled with landmines that have taken a huge toll of human life and limb.

The other diplomatic tools being ferried across to Afghanistan are audio tapes and CDs of Hindi film music and a number of videos of recent Hindi films. This "gift" was inspired by photographs of Afghans thronging movie theatres and Hindi film posters littering the background.

Although the government refused to comment on the presence of intelligence officers, it is believed that their presence will reopen India's intelligence links in Kabul and possibly southern Afghanistan.

India will be one of the first countries to reopen diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. Iran reopened its embassy in Afghanistan this week, according to its foreign ministry spokesman. Russia sent a diplomatic team to Kabul earlier this week too, with a view to reopening diplomatic links.

Pakistan has taken an ambiguous stand, by no longer "recognising" the Taliban government but not yet "de-recognising" them, an indication of the confusion in policy circles in Islamabad. Pakistan, which is still reeling from the stunning blow of the Northern Alliance's advances and capture of Kabul is now scrambling for diplomatic leverage. A foreign ministry official was quoted as saying that the Taliban settled scores with Pakistan by handing over Kabul to Islamabad's sworn enemies. Nevertheless, Pakistan is trying to open bridges with the Northern Alliance too.

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