New Delhi: 

The Taliban representative who met Ambassador Deepak Mittal, India’s envoy in Qatar, on Tuesday in Doha, trained under the Indian Army at its elite institutions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the seven persons who call the shots in the terrorist group that recently took over power in Afghanistan, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai is a key diplomat of the insurgent group.

This is the first time India has admitted to having made diplomatic contact with the Taliban.

Ambassador Mittal met Stanikzai, who is head of the Taliban’s Political Office in Qatar, according to a press release from the Ministry of External Affairs. They met at the Indian Embassy in Doha, the statement said.

Stanikzai trained with the Indian Army between 1979 and 1982 — three years in the Army Cadet College, Nowgaon, as a jawan and then as an officer at Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.

He is a rare Taliban leader who is in the English language and is well travelled, especially during his stint as Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister when the terrorist group last controlled that country.

In 1996, he visited Washington DC on a failed mission to convince President Bill Clinton’s administration to acknowledge the Taliban government, according to a Bloomberg report. He also led delegations to China, it said. Stanikzai was also Abdul Hakim Haqqani’s deputy negotiator in the talks that were held with officials of the earlier Afghanistan government.

In today’s talks, India focused on safety, security, and the early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan. It also raised concern over Afghanistan’s soil being used for anti-India activities and terrorism.

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