Who would have thought India will see a Taliban leader getting a visa to India and sharing a platform with an Indian Union Minister? Well it has happened when Mulla Abdul Salam Zaeef was invited for the Think India meet in Goa where Mr P Chidambaram was also present.
Abdul Salam Zaeef was once the Ambassador to Pakistan of Taliban regime. After 9/11, he was handed over by Pakistan to the US and was in Guantanamo Bay prison where he is alleged have to be kept in bad condition and tortured. Mysteriously he was released and found his way back to Kabul then UAE and even Saudi Arabia. He was considered close to Mullah Omar and thought to be a more moderate face of the Taliban. Currently living with heavy protection in Kandahar.
Zaeef has in the past held negotiations with the Saudis although he denies any peace talks ever happened. Zaeef has in the past called for a reconciliation and a unity government and says there can be no peace in Afghanistan without the Taliban being involved.
It is possible that with 2014 US troop withdrawal in sight and with the US looking for all possibilities including dealing with Taliban as seen from the botched Doha plan where Taliban was allowed to open an office,India too could be looking at the possibilities of dealing with Taliban or some fraction within it considering there is a chance of political instability in Afghanistan after Karzai leaves office along with US drawdown.India has invested over $2 billion in Afghanistan and is keen to protect its commercial as well as strategic interests.
Mullah Zaeef probably presents a “good” avenue for India in this regard. He holds bitterness against Pakistan as it handed him over to the US and spent time in Gitmo. Its possible that India views his bitterness against Pakistan and acceptance within the Taliban as a good enough reason to ipen a dialog with him. This is off course a departure from the past as India has opposed any talks with Taliban and said there is nothing like a good Taliban. But considering the geopolitical reality,India may be now looking at the option of giving the Taliban a chance especially with fears within he security establishment that after US withdrawal from Afghanistan,the “victorious” Taliban,unemployed an looking for new “mission” could target India and infiltrate into Kashmir.
Its also possible that India is under US pressure to find ways to deal with the Taliban after the failure of Doha.Zaeef may present a less rigid face of Taliban and not the cocky ones that flew Taliban flags in Doha.
Its possible that the government will deny any talks with Taliban but given the UPA’s penchant for track II talks,its possible that India is indeed talking with Taliban. Karzai with whom India has signed a security pact is not going to appreciate this.But given the fact that Zaeef lives in Kandahar, and Karzais own attempts to find peace, its possible that Karzai knows about India’s track II talks and possibly has his approval.