India’s envoy to Qatar Deepak Mittal on Tuesday met senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Stanikzai, head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, a statement issued by the Indian foreign ministry said in what appears to be the first-ever official meeting between the two sides.
“Today, Ambassador of India to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of Taliban’s Political Office in Doha. The meeting took place at the Embassy of India, Doha, at the request of the Taliban side,” the statement said.
“Discussions focused on safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan. The travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities, who wish to visit India also came up,” it said.
“Ambassador Mittal raised India’s concern that Afghanistan’s soil should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner,” the Indian statement further added.
The Taliban representative assured the ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed.
Who is Sher Mohammad Stanikzai of Taliban
It is worth noting that Stanikzai, an integral part of the Talibani leadership, had once served as a cadet at the prestigious Indian Military Academy in Uttarakhand’s Dehradun and was fondly called ‘Sheru’ by his course mates from the 1982 batch, who remember him as a moderate and not religiously inclined.
He was 20-years-old when he travelled to India under the Indo-Afghan defence cooperation programme and became one of the 45 foreign gentlemen cadets of the Bhagat Battalion’s Keren Company at the academy.
An ethnic Pashtun, Stanikzai was born in 1963 in the Baraki Barak district of Logar province of Afghanistan.
After completing his masters in political science, Sher Mohammad Stanikzai joined the IMA where he trained for 1.5 years after the Indian military institute was involved in training Afghan army officials in combat.
After completing his training at the IMA, Stanikzai went back to join the Afghan National Army as a lieutenant. He fought the Soviet-Afghan war, initially with Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi’s Islamic and National Revolution Movement of Afghanistan, and later with Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan, as commander of its south-western front.
In 1996, Stanikzai took a radical turn and joined the Taliban. In the years between 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, Stanikzai served as deputy minister of foreign affairs under foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil and later deputy minister of health. He often gave interviews to foreign media during the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 as he spoke English well.
In 2016, Stanikzai travelled to China and represented the Taliban for their talks with the Chinese officials. Then in August 2018, he led a delegation of Taliban officials to Uzbekistan. There, the delegation met Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov and Uzbekistan’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev. In the same year, Stanikzai travelled to Indonesia for discussions with officials, meeting Indonesian First Vice President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla, Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Hamid Awaluddin, Indonesia’s special representative for Afghanistan.
Stanikzai also served as deputy negotiator Abdul Hakim Haqqani, head of the Taliban’s negotiating team, on talks with Afghan government officials. In September 2020, Stanikzai was declared as the chief negotiator to discuss peace with the Afghan government. But, days before the meeting, it was announced that he would act as a deputy to Abdul Hakim.