The recent visit of Taliban’s Abdul Salam Zaeef at Goa’s Thinkfest has set off the hawks in politics and social media, directing a barrage of outrage at the Centre. Experts, though, call India’s move a pragmatic approach towards maintaining stability in the neighbourhood, in view of the US pullout from Afghanistan next year.
From the destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 to the recent shooting of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, the Taliban trajectory has changed little. But geopolitically, the ground reality has changed and with it, the international community has become resigned to doing business with the Taliban.
“It is better to be pragmatic,” said former diplomat MK Bhadrakumar. “But the nuances should always be gradual,” added another expert.
So from long maintaining that “good Taliban is an oxymoron”, India had gone onto supporting talks with the groups president Hamid Karzai’s government was engaging with. Inviting Zaeef was the next logical step. A former mujahideen and minister in the Taliban regime, he had spent over four years in US prisons.
The US has already realised that without taking Taliban into confidence, they can neither finish the endgame in Afghanistan nor maintain their long-term strategic interest in the region. But for that process, the Taliban needs to be a moderate force. India, too, is opposed to the hardline Haqqani faction.
Pakistan’s involvement is the other troubling factor. Given the “trust deficit between India and Pakistan” and Afghanistan being an “existential issue for Pakistan”, Delhi’s task could be impossible, warned Bhadrakumar.