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On training invite for Taliban diplomats, a clarification in Delhi follows

NEW DELHI: The possible participation of officials of the Taliban foreign ministry in an online training course being organised under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme doesn’t reflect any change in New Delhi’s policy towards the setup in Kabul, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Members of Taliban security force stand guard along a blocked road after a suicide blast near Afghanistan’s foreign ministry at the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on January 11, 2023. (AFP File Photo)

The leak of a letter from the head of Afghanistan’s Institute of Diplomacy under the Taliban foreign ministry asking officials to register for the course, to be conducted by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Kozhikode during March 14-17, caused consternation in New Delhi over the weekend.

The people cited above said the course is part of the extensive ITEC programme under the external affairs ministry and is open to nationals of various countries, not just Afghanistan.

“The course is fully online and conducted by the IIM. It is not as if someone will be coming to India for it,” one of the people said. The people noted that ITEC programmes for Afghanistan, which have benefited thousands over the years, had not stopped even after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in mid-2021.

There was no official word from the external affairs ministry on the development. ITEC is one of the oldest institutionalised arrangements for global capacity building and its programmes have more than 200,000 officials from more than 160 countries.

A tweet on Monday from the official handle for ITEC indicated the course was meant for delegates from various countries. “The #eITEC course on Immersing with Indian Thoughts: An Indian Immersion Program for Cross Sectoral Foreign Delegates will provide a deeper understanding of India’s business environment, cultural heritage, and regulatory ecosystem to participants,” the tweet said.

India has so far refused to recognise the Taliban setup in Afghanistan, though it re-established a diplomatic presence in Kabul by reopening its embassy in June last year. A small group of diplomats, known as a “technical team”, is currently present in Kabul and India is yet to make a decision on resuming support for development projects across Afghanistan.

The letter in Dari issued by Mufti Nurullah Azzam, director general of the Institute of Diplomacy under the Taliban foreign ministry, said that the Indian embassy announced through a note verbale or unsigned diplomatic correspondence that the IIM will organise a “short-term online training programme for the staff of the ministry of foreign affairs”.

The training programme has the theme “Immersing with India Thoughts”, according to an English translation of the letter, which was sent to all internal and provincial offices of the Taliban foreign ministry.

“Respected colleagues who are official employees of the ministry and are interested and fluent in English language can register for the programme by using the link until 4/3/2023 and officially inform the Institute of Diplomacy about their registration for the educational programme,” the letter said.

The letter added all participants must submit a brief report on the subjects and their learning at the end of the programme to the Institute of Diplomacy.

The Taliban have made repeated efforts to gain international recognition, including from India, for their regime, and the people said the leak of the letter should be seen in this light.

The Institute of Diplomacy, like all other official organisations in Kabul, is now completely under the control of the Taliban. As such, most of the institute’s officials and any person training at the facility have all been appointed by the Taliban. Most diplomats and officials who served under the erstwhile Ashraf Ghani government have fled Afghanistan and taken refuge in countries such as Germany, Turkey, the UK and the US.

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