Afghanistan situation to be focus on Indian foreign minister’s visit to Russia

Though there has been no formal announcement about Jaishankar’s visit, he is expected to be in Moscow later this week.

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and several upcoming high-level meetings, including the annual India-Russia Summit, are expected to top the agenda when external affairs minister S Jaishankar visits Moscow this week.

Russia sees India as an important player for formulating a coordinated response to the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have significantly stepped up attacks in recent weeks and captured key districts in different parts of the country. People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.

Though there has been no formal announcement about Jaishankar’s visit, he is expected to be in Moscow later this week, the people said. Jaishankar had visited Russia in September last year to attend a meeting of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

In addition to the fast-paced developments in Afghanistan, Jaishankar’s meetings with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and other interlocutors are expected to focus on upcoming meetings between the two sides, including the annual India-Russia Summit, a meeting of the bilateral inter-governmental commission on trade, economic, scientific, technological and cultural cooperation in Delhi in August, and a meeting of the inter-governmental commission on military and military-technical cooperation in Moscow in November.

Jaishankar’s visit to Moscow is a follow-up to the trip by Lavrov to New Delhi in April. The two sides are also expected to discuss cooperation in areas such as trade, defence, hydrocarbons, nuclear energy and India’s participation in the development of Russia’s Far East region.

The annual summit, which couldn’t be held last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is expected to be held in the second half of 2021, the people said.

“The two sides will discuss all bilateral and international developments, including the most vital and current issues such as Afghanistan. The developments in Afghanistan are being seen as huge concerns,” said one of the people cited above.

“There is scope for India and Russia to cooperate both bilaterally and through multilateral platforms. The situation in Afghanistan is a concern for everyone and Russia sees India as an important partner on the Afghan issue,” the person added.

Russia is particularly concerned about an increase in instability in Afghanistan and the fallout on the Central Asian states, especially Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which share borders with the war-torn country.

“Instability in Afghanistan would be dangerous for the region and there is also the fear of a surge in refugees. This would pose an immediate security challenge to the Central Asian countries,” the person cited above said.

Amid reports on Monday of more than 1,000 Afghan troops fleeing into Tajikistan following clashes with the Taliban, Russia is also looking at mounting a coordinated and joint response with the Central Asian states through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a collective security arrangement that includes Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The Taliban have stepped up violence and targeted attacks against the backdrop of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. India has repeatedly expressed concern at the surge in violence and called for a comprehensive ceasefire and the preservation of the democratic system built up in Afghanistan over the past two decades.