India ‘hands Taliban keys’ to Afghan embassy in Delhi after months-long power struggle

A motorist rides past a sign board for the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in New Delhi (AFP via Getty Images)
A motorist rides past a sign board for the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in New Delhi (AFP via Getty Images)

The Taliban claims that its diplomats have taken charge of the Afghan embassy in New Delhi, India, ending the last trace of the ousted Ashraf Ghani administration in the region after a bitter power tussle.

A video shared by the social media account for Afghanistan’s Mumbai consul general showed two diplomats raising the Afghan republic’s flag on the lawns of the embassy in Delhi’s grand Chanakyapuri embassy district.

India has not recognised the Taliban regime that seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021, and evacuated its own staff from Kabul ahead of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan two years ago. It no longer has a diplomatic presence there, and has said it will follow the lead of the United Nations in deciding whether to recognise the Taliban government.

The Afghan embassy in Delhi, led by appointees of the former Ghani administration, had continued to provide consular services to Afghans in India right up until last week.

But with those officials’ diplomatic visas in India expiring and no prospect of them being extended by the Indian government, last Friday they announced that they were shutting operations due to the lack of a recognised government in Kabul. The former Ghani administration officials have all now left India for third countries.

Two Afghan diplomats are seen in the flag-raising video – Zakia Wardak, the consul general of Afghanistan in Mumbai and Sayed Mohammad Ibrahimkhil, the consul general of Afghanistan in Hyderabad.

They said that the Indian government had asked them, as existing consul generals, to take charge of the embassy.

The previous ambassador of Afghanistan, Farid Mamundzay, has accused the two diplomats of working for the Taliban regime in Kabul.

And their move into the Delhi embassy was welcomed by the Taliban itself. The Taliban’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Abbas Stanikzai, said the regime would be working with New Delhi going forward and that operations in Delhi would resume this week.

The minister said that the Taliban was pleased to announce the embassy in India and will be led by its “diplomats”, who will foster friendly relations between the two countries. He said the consuls from both missions moved to New Delhi earlier this week and reopened the offices there.

The flag that is seen being raised in the video this week is at least not the Taliban’s black-and-white standard of the Islamic Emirate. The diplomats can instead be seen raising the Afghan republic’s tricolour flag of black, red and green stripes with the national emblem embossed at the centre.

The incoming leaders of the embassy said that the old flag had become weathered and was only replaced because it was worn-out, though they nonetheless described it as a “symbolic move”.

While India has not reopened its embassy in Kabul, it has joined a small number of other countries in dealing directly with the Taliban – something the Modi administration says is necessary for “humanitarian” work.

The Indian government was also accused of not doing enough to support the Ghani-appointed former ambassador, who said he had no choice but to leave the country amid “constant pressure from both the Taliban and the Indian government to relinquish control”.

The Indian government has repeatedly said that the issue of control of the Afghan embassy was an “internal matter” for Afghanistan to resolve.