Amid the rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, India has opened channels of communication with the various factions of the Afghan Taliban.
Indian security agencies, a report in the Hindustan Times says, have started talks with the Taliban. However, this outreach is limited to the factions and leaders of the Taliban that are believed to be outside Pakistan’s sphere of influence.
Over the last few years, experts have argued that New Delhi should start talks with the Taliban, that will have a role in any future dispensation in Kabul, in order to secure its interests and investments in Afghanistan, including billions of dollars in infrastructure development and humanitarian assistance since 2001.
When asked about India’s outreach to the Taliban on Thursday (10 June), the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) did not deny the report. Instead, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that India is “in touch with various stakeholders”.
“We are in touch with various stakeholders in pursuance of our... commitment towards development and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” he said.
This development hints at a significant departure from India’s position on talks with the Taliban. New Delhi avoided opening channels of communication with the Taliban for years, but the major changes underway in Afghanistan left it no choice, experts say.
The withdrawal of US forces currently underway, the success in its onslaught against the Afghan security forces in the battlefield and an upper hand in negotiations in Doha have emboldened the Taliban to seek a bigger slice of the political pie, one that it is very likely to get. Engagement with an ascendant Taliban appears to be a necessity for New Delhi in light of these developments.
India has established contacts with the Afghan Taliban's chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and that the two sides have exchanged messages.
These developments have come to light at a time when India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was in Doha, where Baradar heads the Taliban office. During his surprise stopover in Doha on his way to Kuwait on Wednesday (9 June), Jaishankar met the Qatari National Security Adviser Mohamed Bin Ahmed Al Mesned. Afghan government and US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad have held talks with Taliban negotiators in Doha this week.
In September 2020, Jaishankar had also participated in the opening ceremony of the intra-Afghan (Afghan government-Taliban) talks, hinting at a gradual shift in New Delhi’s approach towards the Afghan Taliban.
Earlier, the Taliban had refuted media reports that it had aligned with Pakistan-sponsored terror groups in Kashmir, saying it “does not interfere in internal affairs of other countries”. The statement, which came as a surprise, was seen as a subtle overture by the Afghan Taliban towards New Delhi.
The MEA’s decision to not deny the opening of communication channels with the Afghan Taliban suggests these engagements will be sustained, experts say.
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