NEW DELHI: With the contours of a peace deal between the US and the Afghan Taliban rebels emerging, India is likely to back Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s call for “serious talks" between the Taliban and his government to end the long winding civil war.
Officially, India, which has been bracing for a US troop pullout, has not commented on reports that have quoted the US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, as saying that the outlines of a deal with the Taliban had taken shape, 17 years after the US and its allies launched its war on terror and ousted the Taliban regime from Kabul.
News reports say the draft of the deal, thrashed out during lengthy talks in Qatar over many days last week, requires the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and to talk directly with the Kabul government led by Ghani. When a deal is reached, the US troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan within 18 months.
Given the developments, analysts seemed divided as to how India should respond. This is largely because India considers Afghanistan as part of its extended neighbourhood and where New Delhi has pledged and invested more than $ 3 billion in reconstruction and aid.
India should keep a careful eye on how events unfold in the coming months given that there are many potential deal breakers in the draft pact.
“For one, if the US retains defence advisors in Afghanistan pulling out all the combat troops, will that be acceptable to the Taliban? One is not sure," former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said. Another was whether the Taliban would agree to talk to the Afghan government, something they have refused to do so far.
Given these, “I think India should stick to its wait and watch approach as what we seem to have right now is talks about talks," Mansingh said.
Sreeram Chaulia, dean of the Sonipat-based Jindal School of International Affairs, however, was of the view that the turn of events had given New Delhi a narrow window of opportunity to redraw its Afghan strategy and consider engagement with the Taliban.
“The situation in Afghanistan is delicately poised and India should look at a recalibration of its strategy to preserve Indian interests in Afghanistan," Chaulia said, pointing out that while India should continue backing the Afghan government it should also try and reach out to those elements of the Taliban who are seen as nationalist and reluctant to follow Pakistan’s diktats.