Terror and talks cannot go together was a maxim written in stone by the Sangh Parivar. That was the guiding principle for the BJP refusing to have any dialogue with not just Pakistan but also internal elements like the fundamentalist Hurriyat Conference and left-wing extremism. Crushing them with the full force of the state was the advocated line of action. The negotiations the Vajpayee government was forced to have with the Taliban following the hijacking of Indian Airlines IC 814 to Kandahar in 1999 were an aberration, as this was meant to resolve a hostage crisis and rescue over 170 passengers. Yet, it was a moment of shame for a government that put a premium on its no-talks-with-terror hardline. Also, the Sangh faulted Vajpayee for keeping the democratic space open for the Hurriyat.
Now, in a significant U-turn, India has opened secret contacts with the Taliban’s Afghan leadership. That at present the non-state actor has the upper hand as compared to the Afghanistan government, with the deadline for full withdrawal of US troops from the country on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching, is well known. The Taliban already controls over 50 of the 374 districts in the country. So, doing business with the group was an imperative as India is heavily invested in the region and has executed a slew of development works like construction of roads, schools and dams. India has taken up at least 400 projects so far, spending over $1.5 billion and earning a lot of goodwill, making them Pakistan’s eyesore. On the flip side, India quietly closed its consulates in Jalalabad and Herath last year ostensibly due to the Covid first wave, but actually since they ended up serving as target practice for terrorists over the years.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar’s prescription for lasting peace in Afghanistan—peace within the nation and around it—would necessarily include softening of Indo-Pak edges. Since ideological rigidity must give way to supreme national interest, back-channel talks with Pakistan are on, with the latter said to be now ready for formal dialogue if J&K’s statehood is restored, sacrificing Article 370 in the process. One hopes India stays the course of pragmatism for resolving external and internal conflicts.