Ministry of External Affairs hints at talks with Taliban

By The Hindu

India is in contact with “various stakeholders” in Afghanistan, the Ministry of External Affairs said, in response to specific questions about whether the government has opened direct talks with the Taliban.

While the MEA did not confirm the talks, which would represent a major shift for Indian policy, it did not deny recent reports that indicated that Indian security officials have exchanged messages with several “nationalist” Taliban factions, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a member of the Rehbari Shura, or leadership council, that includes Pakistan-based Taliban accused of terrorism.

“We are in touch with various stakeholders in pursuance of our long-term commitment towards development and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, speaking to journalists on Thursday, where he referred to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s participation at the inaugural ceremony of the Intra-Afghan talks with Taliban leaders in Doha last year.

Significantly, Mr. Jaishankar held a meeting with Qatar National Security Advisor Mohamed Bin Ahmed Al Mesned on Thursday, during a transit stop in Doha, between his visits to Kuwait and Kenya, where he said he had discussed “developments in the region and beyond.”

The MEA declined to respond to a question on whether the recent developments in the Afghanistan talks came up during the conversation. The talks appear to have run into trouble both in Doha, where the Taliban’s official headquarters are based, and in Istanbul, where a U.S.-backed process for talks with the Taliban have been delayed for more than two months,

Deviating from earlier path
India has thus far refused to open direct dialogue with the Taliban leadership, which it held responsible for facilitating terror attacks along with groups like the Lashkar-e Taiba and Jaish-e Mohammad on Indian missions in Afghanistan. However, according to experts, India has reconsidered its position in the aftermath of the U.S. announcement that it would pull out all its troops by September this year.

“The clarity over the U.S. decision to pull out, which could be as early as next month, has added to the sense of urgency for Delhi to make these direct contacts,

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