IN A trip that was kept under wraps before it got underway, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Wednesday visited Afghanistan for talks on strategic issues with the leadership in Kabul. The Afghan government said the conversations were about “synchronising efforts to combat terrorism and build peace”.

This is the first visit by a senior Indian official after the Afghan political stakeholders and the Taliban started their reconciliation process last year.

India attended the US-brokered peace pact signing in Doha in February last year. An Indian delegation also attended the inaugural ceremony of the intra-Afghan negotiations in September last year, while External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar addressed the gathering via video-conference.

The Afghan National Security Council said Doval and his counterpart, Hamdullah Mohib. held “extensive conversations on issues of strategic mutual interest, including on synchronising efforts to combat terrorism and build peace”.

Doval, who is on a two-day visit, also met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and “discussed cooperation in countering terrorism and strengthening a regional consensus on the Afghan peace process”, Afghan chargé d’affaires in Delhi, Tahir Qadiry said on Twitter.

“Both sides discussed counter-terrorism cooperation and efforts for building regional consensus on supporting peace in Afghanistan,” said a brief statement issued by the Arg, the Presidential Palace.

During the meeting, Ghani said the Afghan security forces are the righteous pillars of Afghanistan’s stability and are fighting in the front lines against regional and global terrorism. “Afghanistan and India, in joint efforts with NATO and the United States, will be able to succeed in the fight against terrorism,” Ghani was quoted as telling Doval.

Doval said that India is willing to continue its cooperation with Afghanistan and is ready to continue talks on common interests, the statement said.

There was no official word from the Indian government, but sources said this was part of Delhi’s quiet engagement with stakeholders in Afghanistan. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy on the Afghan peace process, visited India twice during the pandemic.

Doval also met Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council of National Reconciliation. Abdullah visited India in October last year and held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Doval.

Influential Afghan leader Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum had also visited India in September last year.