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Afghan reality: India may talk to ISI, Taliban

IBN Live

New Delhi: The top levels of the government are debating opening talks with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan Taliban to ensure India remains relevant in Afghanistan.

CNN-IBN learns the precarious security situation in Afghanistan–highlighted by the terrorist attacks targeting Indians in Kabul on February 26–is prompting a gradual but significant rethink in New Delhi.

Sources confirm that the government is debating opening up a channel of communication with the ISI and engaging sections of the Taliban–an idea India abhorred till now.

India is also considering paring down its presence at reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. Projects underway may be wrapped up quickly and there may be even a freeze on undertaking new projects.

These policy options were debated at a meeting of the National Security Council, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired on February 12.

India won’t scale down Afghanistan operations
The government has been forced to think to rethink its Afghanistan policy because of cold, hard reality. Indian officials acknowledge that the political and military situation has deteriorated in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai is politically weak and Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his men could return to power in Kabul. Security analysts perceive Western powers have lost their will to stay in Afghanistan, and there’s a tremendous increase in Pakistan confidence.

The advice to engage with sections of the Taliban and start a limited and regulated dialogue with the ISI came from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The advice is controversial but stems from India’s need to ensure Afghanistan is not handed over on a platter to Pakistan. In line with that thinking, India is also considering helping prop up a friendly political alliance and intensively engage with Russia and Iran.

Not everyone is convinced about India’s new Afghanistan policy. “It’s not the same Afghanistan–there’s no Ahmad Shah Masood. It’s not the same old Iran either. It’s also not the old Soviet Union. We now have Russia and the Central Asian States, so we need a new way. What that will be, we don’t know,” says former diplomat K C Singh.

Indian officials say there may be a change of approach but India remains determined to stay relevant in Afghanistan.

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