For the last eight years, since the Taliban fled from Kabul in November 2001, India has staunchly opposed a dialogue with any section of it. India's position has remained: there is no purpose in talking to the Taliban; there is no such thing as a moderate Taliban.
But now there is a shift. In New Delhi, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, addressing an international seminar on Afghanistan, declared that India would support the process of "reintegrating individuals with the national mainstream", code for dialogue with the moderate Taliban who agree to renounce violence.
Nirupama Rao stated that, "the existing process under (Afghanistan's) National Committee for Peace for reintegrating individuals with the national mainstream must be both enlarged and accelerated. We support the Afghan government's determination to integrate those willing to abjure violence and live and work within the parameters of the Afghan constitution "
This change in stance came with a qualification. Pakistan, widely believed to support the Taliban and provide shelter in Quetta to its leaders, would need to cease all such assistance.
In words that echoed India's earlier warnings to Pakistan on supporting terrorist camps across the Line of Control in J&K, Nirupama Rao said, "(India's support for reintegration of the Taliban) should, of course, go hand in hand with the shutting down of support and sanctuaries supported for terrorist groups across the (Afghanistan-Pakistan) border."
Since 2001, India has refrained from declaring political initiatives within Afghanistan. Instead, New Delhi has confined its visible diplomacy to drumming up international support and multilateral funding, even while coordinating its actions closely with President Karzai and his team.
The bedrock of the India-Afghanistan relationship has been a $1.2-billion aid programme, India's largest to any country. India is currently the 6th largest bilateral aid donor to Afghanistan. Now, clearly, the MEA has concluded that an aid programme, howsoever successful and appreciated by the Afghans, cannot take the place of clear political initiatives. These initiatives are needed for protecting the infrastructure that Indian aid is creating in Afghanistan.
India's aid programme in Afghanistan includes: a 218-kilometre road from Zaranj in Iran to Delaram in Afghanistan, inaugurated in January this year; the electrical transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri in northern Afghanistan to Kabul, which has brought regular power supply to the capital for the first time since 1992; one hundred small development projects in rural Afghanistan that have quick gestation periods; five medical missions that provide free medicines to 1,000 patients per day; support to Kabul's Indira Gandhi Centre for Child Health, and connecting it last month through a tele-medical link with two super-specialty child health facilities in India; a grant of 1 million tonnes of wheat, which is currently being distributed daily as 100 gram high-protein biscuits to 2 million school-going children across Afghanistan.
Besides declaring support for reconciliation, the foreign secretary also made clear that, as far as India was concerned, the results of Afghanistan's vitiated presidential elections held in August was not yet a settled matter. Congratulating the Afghan people for participating in the elections in the face of Taliban threats, the foreign secretary accepted the possibility of a run-off between President Hamid Karzai and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, and of working with whichever of them was elected to power.
Rao also said India had made up its mind that its regional interests lay in a continued US presence in Afghanistan.