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SOURCE: PTI

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will visit Tajikistan on July 13-14 to attend the SCO Council meeting of Foreign Ministers and the Contact Group on Afghanistan which will review the worsening security situation in that country amidst speedy return of American forces to the US.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are also expected to attend these meetings. While Mr Jaishankar is expected to hold bilateral talks with foreign ministers of some participating countries on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meet, there was no official word on any bilateral interaction or pull aside with Pakistan or China.

Announcing Mr Jaishankar’s visit, the external affairs ministry said the foreign ministers’ conference will also assess the preparation for the upcoming meeting of SCO Council of Heads of States on September 16-17 in Dushanbe, and exchange views on current international and regional issues.

During the visit, the external affairs minister will also attend the meeting of the SCO Contact Group on Afghanistan on July 14. This meeting will also see the participation of the Afghanistan government, the MEA said.

The SCO contact group meeting on Afghanistan assumes significance as it comes amidst growing global concerns over the Taliban fighters rapidly seizing control of a large number of areas in Afghanistan, triggering huge security concerns.

There were reports that a sizeable number of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists are also operating in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

India has evacuated around 50 diplomats and security personnel from its consulate in Kandahar in a military aircraft in the wake of intense fighting between Afghan forces and Taliban militants.

Afghanistan has witnessed a series of terror attacks in the last few weeks as the US looked to complete the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan by August-end, ending a nearly two-decade of its military presence in the war-ravaged country.

India has been a major stakeholder in the peace and stability of Afghanistan. It has already invested nearly USD three billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country.

India has been supporting a national peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.

Mr Jaishankar’s visit to Tajikistan comes at the invitation of Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin, MEA said, adding that the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers meeting will discuss the achievements of the organisation as it celebrates the 20th anniversary of its formation this year.

The minister is also expected to travel to Uzbekistan for a connectivity meet after the Tajikistan trip, sources said.

The SCO, seen as a counterweight to NATO, is an eight-member economic and security bloc and has emerged as one of the largest transregional international organisations.

India and Pakistan became its permanent members in 2017. The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.