In 1999, the Indian Airline IC 814 was hijacked in Kathmandu by Hurkat-Al-Mujahideen & flown to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The hijackers demanded the release of three terrorists.
One was Maulana Masood Azhar who was also involved in the attacks on the Indian Parliament in 2001. The second terrorist to be released was Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the subject of the movie ‘Omerta’ by Hansal Mehta who achieved notoriety for the abduction & murder of an American Journalist named Daniel Pearl.
The third was Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar who fomented insurgency in Kashmir & trained terrorists in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
Ajit Doval, who was the chief negotiator then says:
If these people (the hijackers) were not getting active ISI support in Kandahar, we could have got the hijacking vacated. The ISI had removed all the pressure we were trying to put on the hijackers. Even their safe exit was guaranteed, so they had no need to negotiate an escape route.
Apart from this, according to an Indian Army official, at the peak of Taliban rule in Afghanistan:
about 22 per cent of terrorists operating in Jammu and Kashmir were either of Afghan origin or had been trained there.
This ISI-Taliban Yaarana has been a real pain-in-the-arse for India. Why, then, should India engage in dialogue with the Taliban & give this terrorist organization the legitimacy it yearns for?
It’s better to choose to engage with the Taliban now than being forced to talk to them later.
It’s just a matter of time that the US will withdraw a majority of its troops from Afghanistan. What happens next? The Afghan government controls just about half the Afghan territory. The rest is either controlled by the Taliban or it is still a contested area. The Taliban is just getting stronger by the day & if the military conflict goes on, it will just end up occupying more territory.
An International consensus is emerging that a peace process is the only way forward. Any outcome of the peace process will definitely involve the Taliban governing the country or at least sharing the power. The Taliban knows that it is in control & It is supporting the peace only on its own terms. It is inevitable that we will have to engage with the Taliban sooner or later.
Some Contra Points
Firstly, Pakistan uses the Afghan Taliban as a hedge against India.
This should be enough of a reason for India to be reluctant to engage in any dialogue with the Taliban. But even Pakistan doesn’t want a stable government in Afghanistan even if it is ruled by the Taliban. It loves to keep Afghanistan in eternal chaos.
A strengthened Taliban, backed by the ISI, can spread its influence in the neighbouring Pakistan & Kashmir. This too is a big problem for India. Ideally, India would have loved to have a world without the Taliban. But if the Taliban’s ascendance is inevitable, we better extend a hand of friendship or even dialogue to the Taliban. That’s the only way our interest can be secured. An antagonistic Taliban will only make matter worse at the border.
We can hope that a Taliban which will have a country to run will be less subordinate to the wishes of Pakistan. India has gained some goodwill in Afghanistan through its developmental work & any anti-India activity will be an unpopular move by the government. We can also hope that it stops exporting terrorism.
Our Afghanistan policy is mainly determined by two factors— the desire to limit Pakistan’s influence & to gain access to energy markets in Central Asia. Our investments in Chabahar will only bear fruits if the routes through Afghanistan are stable. Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan too have started the dialogue with the Taliban. If the Taliban remains hostile to India, the routes through Afghanistan are not any better than those through Pakistan. Isn’t that something we were trying to avoid through Chabahar?
Taliban’s one-time foe Russia in on the table. Iran & the US are on the table. We don’t have a lot of options. In diplomacy, they say,
If you are Not at the table, you are on the menu.
If India isn’t part of the peace process in Afghanistan, we can expect that our interests will be ignored. There is a need to have a stable government in Afghanistan that doesn’t resort to exporting terrorism. For that, we’ll need to neutralize Afghanistan & not let the Taliban remain the proxy of Pakistan.
In 1992, India’s ally President Mohammad Najibullah was overthrown & a Pakistan-backed Mujaheddin government took power. India duly recognised & engaged with the government.
Why did it do so? The International community backed by the UN supported this transition & the Indian diplomats were able to reach an accommodative policy with the Mujahideen. The new peace process with the Taliban will also have a large number of countries at the table & India should try to secure its interest through diplomacy.
So, yeah. India should engage with the Taliban.