Is Taliban trying to forge strategic ties with New Delhi?

Members of a Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (C, front)/ Image: REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

After tweets attributed to a Taliban spokesperson claiming that friendship between the group and India is impossible unless the Kashmir issue is resolved began to be shared widely, the group officially denied having made such a comment and called those tweets fake.

Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesperson at their political office in Doha, Qatar, called Kashmir an internal matter of India.

He tweeted, “The statement that has been circulated in certain media regarding India does not belong to Islamic emirate. The policy of Islamic Emirate regarding neighbour states is very obvious that we don’t interfere in the domestic issue of other countries.”

It is in line with the group’s statement in August last year when their statement delinked Kashmir from Afghanistan after New Delhi scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

Apparently, in response to statements coming from Pakistan, the Taliban had said in a statement, “Linking the issue of Kashmir with that of Afghanistan by some parties will not aid in improving the crisis at hand because the issue of Afghanistan is not related.”

The statement further urged India and Pakistan to not turn Afghanistan into a “theatre of competition” amongst themselves.

Incidentally, the Taliban spokesperson quoted in the tweets that the group has now called fake is Zabihullah Mujahid, the same Taliban spokesperson who signed the group’s last year’s statement delinking Kashmir from Afghanistan that has been quoted above.

Recently, the Taliban has also spoken of India on positive notes. Earlier this month, the group appreciated Indian efforts in Afghanistan and said it wants a positive relationship with India.

The group also said that theirs is an Afghanistan-centric movement and that they don’t have any agenda beyond Afghan borders.

Image source: HT

This is a critical aspect of understanding the Taliban’s intentions towards India. While one may often club the Taliban with terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda, there is a critical distinction — the Taliban is Afghan-oriented whereas groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS are world-oriented.

The Taliban seeks an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan whereas ISIS seeks to establish a global Caliphate. As for Al Qaeda, Mark Sedgwick, a historian who has studied Islam and terrorism, has commented, “[E]ven though its immediate objectives are political rather than religious, Al-Qaeda is a distinctively Islamic group.”

Therefore, for a group like the Taliban that seeks to be the state authority in a country, it makes sense for it to have an outreach to the country’s critical neighbours.

Moreover, the Taliban is not monolithic in its thinking. It has been commented that while the group has deep linkages with the Pakistani deep state, there are also some who favour an independent line.

But this should be read with caution. Hindustan Times quoted an Afghanistan-Pakistan observer as saying that one should not be surprised if there is a tweak in this stance under pressure from Pakistan.

This tweak may come in form of developments such as a recent interview to Pakistani state media in which Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban’s chief negotiator, was quoted as saying that India has always played a negative role in Afghanistan and that it has supported traitors in the country.

As the country moves towards intra-Afghan talks, whether the Taliban wants to negotiate with India will be known if it respects Indian concerns. Otherwise, New Delhi cannot be seen talking to a group that continues to target the government in Kabul that India recognises and violate its call for a ceasefire.

Mr Kabir Taneja, a Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and author of the book “The ISIS Peril”, believes India-Taliban talks depend on the group’s seriousness for intra-Afghan talks.

Mr Taneja says, “For the time being, if the Taliban take the mechanism of the intra-Afghan dialogue seriously, this remains the only realistic platform for Indian officials to sit across the table from them for dialogue amidst multiple stakeholders that India also has good relations with, building a collaborative strength to meet the Taliban.”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Madhur Sharma

Madhur Sharma is a Former Journalism Intern at The Kootneeti.

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