Russian President had taken the initiative to conduct talks with the Taliban terrorist groups

Talking to Taliban Over the last two decades, Delhi has insisted that there is no difference between “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” and therefore no room for any engagement.

When diplomacy becomes an exercise in political posturing for the benefit of domestic audiences, the sovereign’s ability to deal with dynamic external situations begins to shrink. That precisely is the problem tying Delhi’s Afghan policy into knots. If the political criticism of the government for being at the table, “in an unofficial capacity”, with the Taliban at an international conference in Moscow is over the top, the defence of the move by the Ministry of External Affairs is underwhelming. But here are a couple of bigger questions about India and the Taliban. If all the major powers of the world — including Washington, Moscow and Beijing — are talking to the Taliban, should Delhi continue to stay away? And if the Afghan government is desperate about talking to the Taliban, does it make sense for Delhi to avoid contact with the insurgent group that might well be returning to Kabul in one form or another in the not too distant future?

But by any measure, the government’s decision to send two retired diplomats to a peace conference convened by Russia appears to be too cautious a response to the policy challenges presented by the unfolding shift in the balance of power between a weakening Kabul and the rising Taliban. It is not too difficult, however, to see the logic animating India’s hand-wringing on Afghanistan. Delhi has long proclaimed that the peace process in Afghanistan should be “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led” as well as controlled by the government in Kabul. The Moscow conference is anything but. But then Delhi finds it hard to say “no” to Moscow which is convening the conference with the representatives of the Taliban and Kabul that is being attended by the countries in the region as well as the US.

As the diplomatic framework on ending the civil war in Afghanistan increasingly focuses on political negotiations to rearrange the power structure in Kabul and find ways to accommodate the Taliban, Delhi is conscious of the need to be at the table. But it is trapped by its political positions against the Taliban in the past. Over the last two decades, Delhi has insisted that there is no difference between “Good Taliban” and “Bad Taliban” and therefore no room for any engagement. Whatever the merit of this approach, it no longer corresponds to the realities on the ground. If it wants any say in the future of Afghanistan, Delhi needs to welcome all opportunities to open a channel of communication with the Taliban. But talking to the Taliban does not mean accepting its ideology or its unreasonable terms for peace. It is about preparing for imminent changes in Afghanistan. It is hard to see how sending retired diplomats, who are not allowed to open their mouths in the conference or “talk”, will advance India’s interests in Afghanistan.