External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s comment that India supports talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban signals a subtle shift in New Delhi’s approach towards the Afghan crisis. At the 9th Heart of Asia Conference in Tajikistan, he said India has been supportive of all efforts being made to “accelerate the dialogue” between the Afghan government and the Taliban, in a rare direct reference to the insurgent group.
In the 1990s and 2000s, India was steadfastly opposed to any dealings with the Taliban. But its position seems to have evolved over the years. In 2018, when Russia hosted Afghan and Taliban talks, India had sent a diplomatic delegation to Moscow.
In September 2020, at the intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Mr. Jaishankar was present at the inaugural session via a video link, reaffirming the long-held Indian position that any peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. His latest comments come close on the heels of a new peace push by the Joe Biden administration of the U.S. The Biden plan includes two key proposals — a unity transition government between the warring parties and a UN-led multilateral conference of envoys from India, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S. India has supported the UN-led process, in an apparent climbdown from its earlier position, and now shown willingness to deal with the Taliban.
The evolution of India’s position is in sync with the evolution of the reality in Afghanistan. The Taliban, no longer an untouchable force, control much of the country’s rural territories.