In early June, the first report appeared of Indian officials having established contact with the Taliban in Doha. The Ministry of External Affairs, when asked to confirm the report, responded with classic ambiguity and only said that India was “in touch with various stakeholders.”
But a few days later, a senior Qatari official confirmed that Indian officials had, indeed, made contact with the Taliban. It still isn’t quite clear at what level this channel of communication had been opened and whether it had been upgraded or had stalled. Some sources claim that only a very preliminary contact has been established at the official level, a sort of line of communication being opened and there is as yet no political level engagement.
There was some speculation of External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar, having met the Taliban leadership in Doha, but this was categorically denied by the MEA spokesman. In fact, shortly after this speculation, the EAM made India’s stand on Afghanistan very clear during his visit to Dushanbe for a meeting of the SCO Contact Group on Afghanistan. Presenting a 3 point roadmap, Dr Jaishankar said that the world was “against seizure of power by violence and force” and “will not legitimise such actions.”
While Dr Jaishankar was probably off-the-mark on the faith he seemed to place on what the world will or will not do; in all likelihood, the ‘world,’ or at least major powers and players, will turn a blind eye to the brutal and violent seizure of power by the Taliban — the stance he took suggested a bit of a rethink over engaging Taliban on India’s part.
Until Dushanbe, the general impression was that India was diluting its long-held and very principled position that Taliban are untouchable. The timing of the initial outreach to the Taliban — the Taliban onslaught on Afghanistan had made rapid advances in the weeks preceding this report — suggested that India was preparing for the eventuality that the medieval warriors would hold sway in Kabul in not too distant a future. As such it smacked of a certain desperation to have at least a toe inside the Taliban tent.
But post-Dushanbe, it is not clear if India is still open to engaging the Taliban at this point in time. Whether this rethink is because the initial engagement apprised India that there is no real purchase in opening up to Taliban or it is because the Taliban gave a bit of a cold shoulder to India is anybody’s guess.