Outreach to Taliban

INDIA has for the first time opened channels of communication with Afghan Taliban factions, including one of its leaders Mullah Baradar, media reports have said. This is happening against the backdrop of the ongoing drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan. This is a significant shift from India’s position of engaging with the Afghan Taliban. New Delhi had, instead, chosen to throw its lot with the Afghan government. But the shifting reality in Kabul has persuaded New Delhi to re-adjust its policy towards the country.

Taliban is already on record to have said that they have won the war and America has lost. Even when the US is on the way out, the Taliban continues to make headway in its military campaign. On Tuesday, the militia overran yet another district in the war-torn, showing its growing military dominance in the country. This makes the prospect of a durable peace in the region a challenging prospect.

There’s, however, hope that a sustained Taliban-Afghan government engagement would lead to some kind of settlement. If the talks hold and are carried to their logical conclusion, it could be a matter of time before the Taliban will take over the country in a power sharing arrangement with the other groups.

This will have huge geopolitical implications for the region. A Taliban dominated government will drastically alter the policies of the Afghan government. And India might be at a disadvantage here considering it has opposed the Taliban from day one. The outreach to the militia could be an attempt to insure against a Taliban takeover in Kabul.

But it is the impact on the geopolitics of the region that would be profound. Kabul could continue to be the site of the great game and the violence unless all regional countries cooperate to bring peace to the country. As underlined earlier by the US president Joe Biden himself, eventually the stability in Afghanistan will have to be the responsibility of the regional powers. And it is unlikely to happen if the regional powers pursue their disparate interests as far as their approach to the evolving situation in Afghanistan.

The US will also need to make some subtle adjustment in its Afghanistan policy to make it work in the long term. In its current form, the policy almost entirely neglects the regional geo-politics, prevailing issues and the contending interests of the neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan which also keep the conflict going in Kabul. So rather than an exclusively Afghanistan-centric policy, the US also needs a broader regional approach to work for an integrated solution to the conflicts and the competing interests that in turn fuel the war.

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