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NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday hosted a regional security summit with officials from Russia, Iran and five Central Asian republics to discuss the situation in neighboring Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover of the country.

The two-day Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan is the first such meeting since the Taliban took control of the country following the fall of the US-backed Afghan government on Aug. 15. The first editions of the dialogue were hosted by Iran in 2018 and 2019.

Security chiefs from Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan arrived in New Delhi, while two other regional powers, Pakistan and China, declined to attend.

Afghan government representatives were not invited to take part in the summit.

“This is the time for close consultation amongst us … (and) among the regional countries,” India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said as he opened the meeting.

“I’m confident that our deliberations will be productive … and will contribute to help the people of Afghanistan and enhance our collective security.”

The meeting underscores India’s attempts to protect its strategic interests in Afghanistan. Over the past two decades, India has spent about $3 billion on development projects in different parts of the neighboring landlocked country. As other powers look to cement their grip on the region, the Indian government has faced criticism for allowing New Delhi to be sidelined in Afghanistan while other players such as Pakistan and China sweep in.

Pakistan declined to attend the summit, with its National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf last week saying India was a “spoiler” and not a “peacemaker” in Afghanistan, while China’s foreign ministry blamed “scheduling reasons” for not participating but said it remained open to bilateral talks. Some Indian foreign policy experts see the ongoing security meeting as India’s attempt to claim a role in the region.

“This is something that is interesting, something that India has not done in the past,” Harsh V. Pant, director of strategic affairs program at the Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News.

“India has been relatively reticent in the past on Afghanistan and has not really taken leadership. With this, India is bringing stakeholders together.”

He added that there is no option for India to do nothing in the face of a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

“The burden falls on regional players. India not doing anything is not an option. It is therefore trying to engage with all the relevant partners,” Pant said. “India is not really looking at the situation as a bystander.”

While India used to be the region’s largest provider of development aid to Afghanistan, foreign policy expert Sanjay Kapoor sees its post-Taliban takeover concerns in the country as related mainly to security issues.

“India wanted to host this dialogue in March this year, but it could not get its act together. If it had succeeded in doing that in March or May, it would have had a different impact on Afghanistan,” Kapoor told Arab News.

“Now it is more concerned, along with other participating countries, about security issues. India doesn’t want Afghanistan to become a terror hub.”

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