In a significant development, India acknowledged that it entered into back-channel communication with the Afghan Taliban. Last month’s reports by Indian media also disclosed this new development. Besides, India’s Ministry of External Affairs confirmed that. Taliban’s Quetta-based leadership and Qatari officials acknowledged that too.
Until now India has been avoiding forefront communication with the Taliban. But over the years of past Indian intelligence officials have been in contact with the Taliban on and off.
India predominantly looked over to the Taliban as a proxy for its rival Pakistan. Also, it did not want to overlook its official policy of not talking to any militant groups. But much has changed over the years.
A few years back Iran and Russia started supporting the Taliban and formed a working relationship with them in order to counter the rising influence of the Islamic State of Khorasan.
By slowly strengthening its diplomatic relations with the international community Taliban further established themselves diplomatically as well as militarily. All this compelled India to reconsider its approach towards the Taliban and it decided to extend ties with relatively friendly factions of the Taliban.
It was in September last year that India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar referred to entering into a dialogue with the Taliban for the first time by participating in the intra-Afghan peace talks. Since then Indian security officials started off backchannel communication with the Taliban. By doing so New Delhi wants to protect its security interests and investments in Afghanistan. In particular, it wants to make sure that Kashmir-focused armed groups do not use Afghanistan soil to launch attacks in IOK. Also, backdoor relations with the Taliban can ensure India that Afghanistan does not pose any security threat in the future.
Apart from India, the Taliban can also benefit from these backchannel talks as the group would require considerable outside help after the US exit. Certainly, India can offer this help in exchange for security guarantees.
This backchannel breakthrough can also be beneficial for the ongoing Afghan peace process by reducing the possibility of any future India-Pakistan proxy war.
The success of India’s backchannel ties with the Taliban will partially depend on Pakitan’s response. So far Pakistan will opt to stay neutral. Or else, Pakistan would subside the India-friendly Taliban factions. Pakistan’s influence will partially influence that dialogue process but it will not be able to end it.
Moreover, the Taliban also signaled that they want an independent foreign policy approach by remaining neutral to the August 2019 development in IOK. Recent territorial gains, growing financial independence, and developments at the diplomatic fronts gave the Taliban a significant level of authority. Hence, all these developments signify that the Taliban will continue to talk to India but the success of these talks will remain in question at least for now.