Indian Decade

India and the Taliban Talks

India will be watching talks between the United States and elements of the Taliban with a wary eye.

India is keeping a close tab on fast-paced political developments in Afghanistan, a country whose fate is closely entwined with Indian security. It’s not for nothing that India has so far spent well in excess of $1.3 billion on a range of infrastructure and other projects aimed at improving the lot of the common man in Afghanistan.

A major announcement on political reconciliation in Afghanistan can likely be expected in the near future that will help pave the way for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The reason: the United States and other foreign powers are engaged in direct talks with the Taliban about a possible settlement to the decade-long war in Afghanistan. The fact that the United States has been engaging in reconciliation talks with elements of Taliban has been known for months, but it was officially confirmed on June 19 by Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a formal press conference in Kabul. The Americans’ exit strategy from Afghanistan (where it has been spending over $100 billion annually, and losing several hundred soldiers a year) will depend on the outcome of these talks.

There are two reasons why the Afghan peace talks may yield positive results. One, the US publicly joining these talks indicates that enough groundwork, going on for well over a year, has been done and so now only the final details need to be settled. Two, there are indications that this internal dialogue is bolstered by regional support, with Pakistan and even Iran on board.

India, though, has concerns over the Taliban gaining a foothold in the Afghan government, refusing to believe in the ‘good Taliban’ theory. History is witness to the fact that terrorism in India was at its peak when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the period during which Pakistan effectively saw Afghanistan as its fifth province. However, India won’t mind saying ‘aye’ to the Afghan reconciliation process as long as its interests in Afghanistan are protected.

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But there’s a flipside to the whole thing. Voices emanating from Pakistan are questioning why, if the US is talking peace with Taliban, it can’t itself start formal talks with the Afghan resistance and the Pakistani Taliban? There’s resentment in Pakistan that the United States has apparently not only failed to agree to the Pakistani government engaging in peace talks, but that it is also pressuring Pakistan into launching more operations against the Taliban, particularly in North Waziristan.