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News Analysis | Multi-track strategy: India ‘engages Taliban’, but questions Pakistan’s support to militant group

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. File   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

India is engaging all stakeholders in Afghanistan, including some parts of the Taliban, as part of a “multi-track” strategy necessitated by the advance of the Taliban militants on the ground, according to official sources, who for the first time confirmed the talks are ongoing. The talks with the militant group don’t dilute India’s concerns over the Taliban’s recent military gains, and Pakistan’s support to Taliban fighters, but signify that a negotiated power-sharing agreement is now seen as the “best case scenario” for Afghanistan.

“We support the Afghan government. We deal with them irrespective of who is in power. We are in constant touch with Afghan leaders from all ethnic backgrounds. We have participated at the Doha [conference inauguration] and later on also have been in meetings [with the Taliban]. We believe Afghans deserve peace, and if we have to be in touch with all stakeholders and regional countries, we will be,” the sources explained.

According to the government’s latest assessment, the Taliban is attempting to acquire territory to the South and border posts of Afghanistan, and will accelerate its efforts to take major cities once the U.S. completes its pull-out of troops at the end of August. In particular, the assessment has found that while the Taliban holds territory considerably less than media speculation of “85%”, and pegs its reach to only about “45-50%”, it is in a position to establish control of one or more of the Southern provinces including Kandahar, Helmand, Ghazni and Paktia.

Next 3-4 months crucial

The detailed assessment doesn’t predict the fall of Kabul at present, but that the next 3-4 months will be crucial to decide Afghanistan’s future.

 

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is expected to share this perception with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Wednesday in Delhi, pointing out that the U.S. air support and international financial assistance would be necessary to stave off the Taliban’s onslaught against the Afghanistan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), along with a check on Pakistan’s continued support to the Taliban. He would also discuss the outcome of his recent visits to Doha, Dushanbe, Moscow, Tehran and Tashkent, all of which focused on the situation in Afghanistan and India’s concerns about Pakistan’s role.

In particular, the sources cited recent reports from international news agencies and videos that showed Taliban fighters being treated in Pakistani hospitals, and identified hospitals in the border town of Chaman and Quetta as places where those injured in the fighting with the ANDSF near the border post at Spin Boldak were brought.

 

The sources said many of those killed and injured also held Pakistani identity cards, which was one of the reasons Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani had, at a conference in Tashkent this month, openly blamed Islamabad for failing to stop the flow of “10,000” jihadis, who he said had entered Afghanistan from Pakistan and other countries in the past month.

Need for sustained pressure on Pakistan

On Sunday, MEA officials involved in the planning of talks during Mr. Blinken’s visit had also said they would discuss the “the need for sustained pressure on Pakistan on terror financing and terror havens”.

 

However, it is far from clear how much the U.S. will be willing to criticise Pakistan publicly, given that it is deeply engaged with its military and political leadership on pushing the Taliban towards some sort of a “face-saving” peace agreement before the U.S. pulls out all its troops.

Earlier this month, the U.S. also announced a new connectivity ‘Quad’ comprising U.S.-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan. In New Delhi, the move is seen as part of the U.S.’s search for a role in Afghanistan post-pullout, amidst reports that American officials are discussing acquiring a base in Central Asia, and also negotiating shelter for those in Afghanistan who have helped their forces and hence, targeted by the Taliban.


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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 7:19:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/news-analysis-multi-track-strategy-india-engages-taliban-but-questions-pakistans-support-to-militant-group/article35545791.ece

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