Talking to the Taliban

Delhi rightly cautions Washington, Kabul against a naive belief in Taliban's moderation

Those in Delhi nervously contemplating the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 don't have the luxury of waiting till then to frame a response. The consequences of the change in US policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan are beginning to unfold even before the year 2013 is upon us. America's new warmth towards the Pakistan army, the intensifying engagement between Kabul and Islamabad, and the first ever talks last week in Paris between the Afghan government and the Taliban, are all indicative of the shifting tectonic plates in India's Northwestern marches. It is no secret that Delhi is not comfortable with any of these developments.

President Barack Obama is determined to end America's longest war ever, in Afghanistan since the end of 2001. The political support for prolonging the international community's military involvement in Afghanistan is rapidly evaporating in Washington and other Western capitals. As it heads for the exits, America has turned to the Pakistan army for help in making the transition look smooth. Washington has kissed and made up with Rawalpindi, despite the full knowledge that Pakistan has played both sides of the street in Afghanistan. In lining up new rewards for Rawalpindi, the US has agreed to release nearly $ 700 million in military assistance to Pakistan, consider the renewal of arms supplies, welcome the Taliban into Kabul, and highlight the Pakistan army's agenda towards India.

Rawalpindi, in turn, has promised to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban on future power sharing in Afghanistan. Kabul, Delhi might note, is as eager as Washington to enlist Pakistan's support in finding an accommodation with the Taliban. In the last few weeks, Pakistan has teased Washington and Kabul just enough to keep them hooked. It has released Taliban captives, and got the Taliban negotiators to signal a measure of flexibility in Paris without offering any real concessions. Delhi is right to caution Washington and Kabul against nave belief in Taliban's moderation and Rawalpindi's reasonableness. But the die, it would seem, is cast. Delhi must recognise that the post 9/11 era, which has been so favourable to India, is coming to an end. It must also prepare itself for the next phase in which the influence of Pakistan and its proxies is bound to go up in Afghanistan.

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