Should India Talk to Taliban in Afghan Peace Process?

Should India Talk to Taliban in Afghan Peace Process?

Should India Talk to Taliban in Afghan Peace Process?

Rahul Bhandari, IAS

India has spent years resisting Taliban and also excoriating anyone who differentiated between 'Good' and 'Bad' Taliban.  Yet India has recently participated in the talks held at the behest of Russia, to discuss Afghan Peace Process.   Is the recent change of stance of India desirable?  Should India talk to Taliban by agreeing to negotiate on the same table?  This paper would discuss the recent policy change of Govt. of India and its need in the changed geo-political scenario.


            India has been outlier in negotiating with Taliban.  Its reluctance to engage stems in large part from the Taliban's association with Pakistan, India's nemesis which supports this group.

            However, India has not always cold-shouldered pro-Pakistani militants in Afghanistan.  India did engage with mujahidin factions in the 1990s and recognized the Pakistan backed government that took power in 1992.  However, India did not recognize the Taliban regime which ruled from 1996-2001 and which was recognized by three countries - Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

            Taliban controls significant part of Afghanistan.  India, though has not committed any troops for the country, it has already spent USD 2 billion on various projects there.  In such a scenario, can India maintain the policy of non-negotiation with the major actor on the scenario?


Afghan Peace Process

            India has participated in the process 'Unofficially'.  India should support any effort to maintain and ensure peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.   Since the action of US-led troops in 2001, despite multi-pronged strategy adopted, there is no peace, security and stability in the country.   These negotiations which were carried out with the active participation and initiative of Russia were attended by number of nations included by the representatives of Afghan government.

            Russian diplomacy has made it clear that Afghan problem can only be resolved politically, through attainment of national accord and with involvement of parties to the conflict. 

            The meet was attended by US, Iran, China, Pakistan, India and five former Soviet republics in Central Asia.  If the major powers of the world are talking to the Taliban - can India afford to stay away?  Does it make sense for India to avoid contact with a group that might well be returning to Kabul in one form or another in the not too distant future?

            India has considerable economic and security interest in Afghanistan.  India, therefore, has to change course and needs to engage with Taliban.   There is a need for India to rethink its publicly started stance of Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process and negotiations.

            China and Russia have maintained contacts with the Taliban to protect their economic and security aspects.  US led forces cannot continue to stay in Afghanistan for an indefinite period.    The transfer of power in the absence of US forces will lead to changed power scenario in the country.   Role of Iran and Pakistan in the peace process can only be discussed and negotiated by participating in the multi-nation peace process. 

Way Forward

            The next meet of non-negotiating with Taliban no longer corresponds to the ground realities.  If India wants a say in the future of Afghanistan, it needs to welcome all opportunities to open a channel of communication with the Taliban. Talking to them does not mean accepting its ideology or its unreasonable terms for peace.  It is about preparing for imminent changes in Afghanistan.  Russia is insisting on India to play more active role in the next level of talks and not by sending mute listeners and observers to the talks. India should not be the only power outside the room where the negotiated solution to the Afghanistan takes place.  The previous stances can be and should be changed in the evolving geo-political scenario.


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