The Taliban, a violent extremist Islamist organization bolstered by arms and money from the Pakistani establishment, has all of a sudden acquired a certain legitimacy. The United States, Russia and Iran are all talking to the Taliban leadership.
The proximate cause is Washington’s desire to finally pull out from Afghanistan where it has fought — and largely lost — an 18-year-old war. US President Donald Trump appears to be bold enough to do what his predecessors always wanted but didn’t dare to: walk away from the Afghan conflict.
Mr. Trump doesn’t care a hoot what happens to Afghanistan and there’s no good reason why he should. Thousands of Americans were killed fighting in that country and even the modest US military presence there costs the US taxpayer billions of dollars.
Besides, it’s amply clear by now that the US military is incapable of winning the war against the Taliban. Nor can US money transform the country into a vibrant squeaky-clean Western-style democracy.
The Pakistani military establishment has won through their Islamist proxy, the Taliban. This is the reality: no amount of argument can change the fact.
The question is what should India do? Talk to the Taliban or stay away and hope for the best?
The only high-ranking Indian official candid enough to say something was Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, who during a discussion at a conference said: “If other nations are keen on initiating talks with the Taliban, and this is what the host nation desires; then India shouldn’t be left out of the bandwagon, because of our positive engagements with Government in Afghanistan. This was also in line with from India attending the recent discussions in November 2018 in Russia; however, no preconditions should be put forward by Taliban.”
The Army Chief also tweeted: “Many are engaging with Taliban for having peace. We should engage unconditionally to the extent of having a sense as to what is happening. India has contributed immensely for peace in Afghanistan and plans to do so.”
But New Delhi’s foreign policy establishment has largely remained silent on this subject, although there can be no denying a sense of urgency.
Significantly, both Iran and Russia want India to parley with the Taliban while the US, especially President Trump, is dismissive about India’s importance in the Afghan scheme of things.
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The writer is an independent commentator on political and security issues