India shifts Afghan policy, ready to talk to Taliban

In the wake of a possible American pullout from Kabul next year, New Delhi has sharply re-oriented its strategy towards Afghanistan by reaching out to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami party and keeping its door open in case of a reconciliation effort by the Taliban.

While the new Afghan policy is being crafted at the highest levels with National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon playing a lead role, New Delhi is learnt to have made contact with Hizb-e-Islami party even though it knows that Hekmatyar is firmly under Pakistani control. New Delhi is also now amenable to talking to Taliban in case the latter are to open an engagement. This change in Indian posture comes as Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also talked about reconciling with India.

Top government sources told The Indian Express that New Delhi wants to reach out to the second generation Pashtun leaders like Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai, and is with the former Northern

Alliance leaders like Marshal Fahim, Karim Khallili and Mohammed Mohaqiq in backing President Hamid Karzai's government.

This fine-tuning of India's position on Afghanistan comes after exchange of views between top diplomats. After the February attack on Indians in Kabul, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Pakistan-Afghanistan envoy Satinder Lambah and former West Asia envoy Chinmay Gharekhan wanted India to adopt a neutral position in Afghanistan. This essentially meant keeping out of Aghanistan politics but carrying on the development works in the war-torn republic.

This month, this view was nuanced further by the UPA government, with New Delhi now all for an independent or neutral Afghanistan that does not require the crutches of neighbouring Pakistan. According to a paper prepared by the Ministry of External Affairs on the subject, India should back an Afghanistan that keeps out terrorism emanating from Pakistan and does not allow the state to slip back into the violence spiral of 1990s. The sub-text of the paper is that Afghanistan will come under the total influence of Pakistan if New Delhi were to let matters go out of hand.

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