Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

India opens channels with Taliban leaders

- Rezaul H Laskar


NEW DELHI: India has for the first time opened channels of communicat­ion with Afghan Taliban factions and leaders, including Mullah Baradar, against the backdrop of the rapid drawdown of US forces from Afghanista­n, people with knowledge of developmen­t have said.

The move marks a significan­t shift from New Delhi’s position of not engaging with the Afghan Taliban in any way and comes at a time when key world powers are veering around to the position that the Taliban will play some part in any future dispensati­on in Kabul.

The outreach is largely being led by Indian security officials and has been limited to Taliban factions and leaders that are perceived as being “nationalis­t” or outside the sphere of influence of Pakistan and Iran, one of the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.

The outreach has been underway for some months, the people said.

In the case of Mullah Baradar, the co-founder of the Afghan Taliban and one of the group’s main negotiator­s, the first person cited above said messages were exchanged by the two sides though there was no confirmare­constructi­on tion of a meeting. There have also been conversati­ons with other Taliban factions despite a lack of trust on both sides, the people said.

The outreach to Baradar is significan­t as he signed the deal with then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in February 2020 that paved the way for the current withdrawal of American troops.

Baradar held various posts when the Taliban was in power during 1996-2001. He was captured by Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligen­ce (ISI) in Karachi in February 2010 after he began negotiatio­ns with the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul. Baradar was freed by Pakistan in 2018 and became the head of the Taliban office in Doha.

India is the largest regional contributo­r to Afghanista­n’s and developmen­t efforts with pledges of $3 billion but has lagged behind other regional players such as Russia, China and Iran in establishi­ng contacts with the Taliban, largely because of the group’s long-standing links with the Pakistani military establishm­ent. However, the perception that the Taliban is no longer a monolithic organisati­on and some factions may not be completely under the sway of Pakistani generals has gained ground in recent years.

“We have tried the earlier option of not engaging the Taliban and putting all our efforts into the Northern Alliance,” said a second person, referring to the united front created by Tajiks and other ethnic groups that was backed by India, Russia and Iran in its campaign against former Taliban regime in the late 1990s.

“But there has been a huge shift since then and there are some who think it might be better to have a line of communicat­ion with some Taliban leaders,” the second person said.

The people made it very clear that India’s outreach didn’t include the Haqqani Network or members of the Quetta Shura, who are seen as proxies of the Pakistani military.

There was no formal response from the external affairs ministry on these developmen­ts.

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