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India opens channels with Afghan Taliban: what is the future of India-Taliban relations?

According to Indian media reports, the country opens channels with Afghan Taliban factions and leaders.

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According to Indian media reports, the country opens channels with Afghan Taliban factions and leaders. The report published in the Hindustan Times claims that Indian outreach is largely led by security officials and limited to Taliban factions and leaders that are perceived as being “nationalist” or outside the sphere of influence of Pakistan and Iran.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy leader and negotiator, and other delegation members attend the Afghan peace conference in Moscow in March 2021. 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 the development have said.

The move marks a significant shift from New Delhi’s positiAon 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.

India’s place in Afghanistan after Amirian withdrawal

India has a mounting diplomatic challenge as the Taliban, which New Delhi has despised, appears to be making a comeback to Kabul’s power corridor. It is worth recalling that India was forced to escape Afghanistan after Taliban assumed power in Kabul on September 26, 1996. After almost a period of five years, in November 2001, a plane carrying a small delegation of Indian diplomats landed in Bagram airbase, north of Kabul.

According to a report, India has cultivated a strong relationship with successive Afghan governments, investing heavily in the development and infrastructure of the war-ravaged country, with the total aid of nearly $2bn since 2001, the largest that New Delhi has contributed to any nation.

However, the country was not been active during the Afghan peace talks between the Taliban and the US where Pakistan played a decisive role. Analysts believe India’s policy has not been a success to build a strong, sustainable relationship with Afghanistan.

Kabir Taneja, a security analyst and a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation believes that “New Delhi has backed Afghanistan’s democratic system, and put its weight behind the presidency of Ashraf Ghani. However, even as an expected actor in an event such as talks with the Taliban, New Delhi, unfortunately, built limited capacities over the years for its opinion to be strong enough to be a by definition regional player in helping Afghanistan politically.”

“India’s Afghan outreach, that of developmental aid, people to people contact and so on relied on the security cover provided by the US and its allies. With that gone, the policies of New Delhi will need a serious re-visit,” Taneja pointed out.

Hekmatullah Azamy, deputy director at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, said India will have to undoubtedly start a dialogue with the Taliban. “It also needs to be seen if the Taliban will be open to talking to them,” he said.

Read More: Taliban return: What do Afghanis think?

“Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan and militant groups in the region will have a huge impact on the future of India in Afghanistan,” Azamy said, adding that while Taliban in the 1990s was far more independent of foreign influence, they still leaned towards Pakistan on policies related to India.

“Even in the best of scenarios, it is unlikely that the Taliban would be open to working with India. For instance, the Taliban may not want the army cadets to be trained in India,” Azamy said.

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