NEW DELHI : Top security and intelligence officials of the UK, the US and Russia have made a beeline for India to discuss the situation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in Kabul and the implications for regional security.
Richard Moore, the head of the UK Secret Intelligence Service or MI6, was the first of the visitors over the past week, and he was followed on Tuesday by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William Burns.
Both spy chiefs and their teams met National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and top members of the National Security Council Secretariat, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
On Wednesday, Doval met Nikolay Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s security council. Patrushev is visiting India at Doval’s invitation for high-level bilateral inter-governmental consultations on Afghanistan, the external affairs ministry said.
The visits came against the backdrop of the old guard of the Taliban tightening its grip on power in Afghanistan a little more than two weeks after the group marched into Kabul on August 15, following the chaotic collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government.
Just three days after a visit to Kabul by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, the Taliban on Tuesday announced a 33-member interim setup led by veteran political leader Mohammad Hasan Akhund, a close aide of the group’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The people cited above said developments in Afghanistan and the possible spillover of terrorism from Afghan soil were among the key topics discussed in the meetings with the MI6 and CIA chiefs and the Russian security official. The Indian side raised Pakistan’s backing for the Taliban and its core military component, the Haqqani Network, and the presence of thousands of Pakistani fighters in Afghanistan, the people said.
The meetings also looked at the way forward on Afghanistan, especially at a time when Russia and China appear to be veering towards the possible recognition of the Taliban dispensation. There are indications that Russia and China are keen to work with the Taliban to address their security concerns, especially the perceived threat from the Islamic State and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
Russia and China are also among the very few countries that have kept their embassies in Kabul open and their envoys have been meeting with Taliban leaders.
Burns and his team interacted with Doval and key members of the National Security Council Secretariat, including deputy national security adviser Rajinder Khanna and Lt Gen (retired) VG Khandare, the secretariat’s military adviser, the people said.
While the external affairs ministry announced Patrushev’s visit, there was no official word from any side on the trips by the British and American spy chiefs. Burns is believed to have travelled to Pakistan after the India leg of his visit.