Members of the Taliban delegation in Doha for peace talks

New Delhi: Officials in New Delhi are finding it difficult to trust the words of Taliban leaders who have assured India that they will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a place to plan and execute anti-India operations by Pakistan’s ISI and its allied agencies such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Indian officials tracking the matter told The Sunday Guardian that it was not just their view but the assessment of different governments that the Taliban leadership was taking instructions from the Pakistan army generals based in GHQ Rawalpindi and the ISI officers in Islamabad and acting as one of the many informal arms of the Pakistan army.

The fact that the Taliban that have taken control of multiple districts and towns in quick succession in the last few months, have still not spoken out against ISI-backed entities like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed categorically, has strengthened the belief in the security apparatus in Delhi that it would be unwise to trust the Taliban. Unconfirmed reports emerging from Kabul suggest that ISI has sent Lashkar terrorists to augment the ranks of the Taliban as they fight the Afghan national forces.

The Taliban leadership, which recently went to China, gave a clear assurance to the Chinese leadership that it will not allow the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an organization that has carried out attacks in China, to use the Afghan soil against China. This interaction between the Taliban and China was organized by Pakistan.

No such categorical assurance has been given to India by the Taliban that it will take action against the Lashkar and Jaish cadre. Pakistan’s generals and ISI officials believe that having a “pro-Pakistan” government in Afghanistan will allow them to use Afghanistan as a “strategic depth” vassal state.

Officials in Delhi are yet to forget the support that ISI-backed terrorists, including Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, got from the Taliban leadership at Kandahar airport during the infamous hijacking of the Indian Airlines IC-814 aircraft in December 1999, a plan that was conceived by the ISI.

However, sources close to the Haqqani brothers (Sirajuddin and Anas who are going to play a key role if the Taliban take over Kabul) told The Sunday Guardian that they had “no enmity” with India, while stating that Taliban being anti-India was a fiction that was being spread by the Afghan government and media who were indirectly helping Pakistan. “India is historically a close friend and nothing can change. This is something that even the Taliban know irrespective of whether they form a government in Kabul or not,” a source close to the Haqqani brothers told The Sunday Guardian.

According to another source, there was a possibility in the coming days that the Taliban leadership might categorically say what India wanted to hear. As per him, the Taliban leadership has told their cadre not to destroy any infrastructure just because it has been built by India.

However, with the Taliban being more like a militia with multiple factions rather than a trained army, it is not yet clear how “obedient” the fighters will be on the ground. A formal recognition from India of any possible Taliban government in Kabul may go a long way in ensuring that Kabul continues to receive economic aid, which it desperately needs, and something that Pakistan cannot give, say some observers.

“Pakistan is more or less a pariah state and it has so many problems that whoever gets associated with it, gets sucked into their problems. Any government in Kabul cannot function efficiently if it shares close ties with Pakistan. That much of history is something that even the Taliban leadership should be aware of. In case it comes to power in Kabul in the future and if it continues to take orders from Rawalpindi and Islamabad, then Kabul will find itself in a worse situation than it is now,” a diplomat with a Western country told The Sunday Guardian.