Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
India talking to Taliban?
If the news reports are true, India’s willingness to talk to the Taliban would represent a seismic shift in strategy for New Delhi and underlines the concern that the Congress-led government has over Pakistan’s influence in any Afghan end game.
India has always publicly opposed any attempts at talks by the Western powers with the Taliban to bring them into any stability plan for Afghanistan — chiding the idea there was such a thing as a “soft side” to the insurgents.
But an Indian Express report said New Delhi was now seeking out a “second generation” of Pashtun leaders like Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai.
It also comes with a report that Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying that the group was not in direct conflict with India.
New Delhi has also been increasingly worried about Pakistan’s growing closeness with Washington, especially the meeting in Washington this month in which Pakistan reportedly pressured the United States to rein in Indian influence in Afghanistan.
By one account, Pakistan has also asked President Harmid Karzai to close two Indian consulates in Afghanistan. Islamabad says they harbour spies.
For years India has most relied on its contacts with the Northern Alliance and then Karzai to spread its influence in Afghanistan — its $1.3 billion of economic “soft power” aid.
But some comments from Karzai about Afghanistan and Pakistan being “twin brothers” may also hint that the Afghan leader is leaning towards Islamabad.
So from New Delhi’s point of view, it may make some tactical sense for India to start reaching out to other groups in Afghanistan, despite political opposition at home.
What is not in doubt is that India’s role in any end game in Afghanistan after the start of a U.S. troop withdrawal will be increasingly a key card in the modern Great Game.