For the indian Government, which has been much maligned for its Afganistan policy, the quick turn of events in northern Afganistan came in a a vindication of sorts.
The government had come in for heavy criticism for the seeming lack of policy last September when Taliban forces entered Kabul. This time, it was off the block much faster. Mazar-i-Sharif fell into Taliban hands through those who rebelled against Dostum. The cautious statement put out on May 26 said the Taliban authority had extended to northern areas. It emphasised that the "new situation is entirely within the domestic sphere of Afghanistan" and it was for the Afghans to decide their future, "free from outside influence and interference".
This neutrality marked a change of tack in India's stand vis-a-vis the Taliban. There was nothing to show that India was ready to deal with the Taliban. But there was nothing to show that it was not willing either. This may not be a palatable option, but if the Taliban had indeed established control over Afghanistan, India would have had no choice but to deal with them. That was what India was coming around to.
In fact, India has always dealt with every Afghan regime. Earlier, it was the communists, then came the Mujahideen whose leaders like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Rabbani and others were extremely inimical towards India until they came to power. But they didn't take long to start dealing with India and vice versa. It, therefore, follows logically that India would start dealing with the Taliban soon. South Block hasn't missed the recent statements from Taliban about India, which have lost their acerbic tone.
But behind the shift in policy is also the recognition that if the Taliban become all supreme in Afghanistan, Pakistan will use their expertise In Kashmir, which can be a serious problem. In such a situation, it is better to have channels open to them than to treat them as anathema.
. But the Afghan crisis is fluid at the moment. And even if the Taliban take over the whole country, which is in the realm of speculation now, it is unlikely that India will rush to embrace them. As an analyst explained, the Taliban will have to prove that they have reoriented themselves into the "political governing mode from the fighting mode".
The reverses in Mazar also come as a setback for Islamabad's Afghan policy. Pakistan's recognition of the Taliban and its plan to despatch foreign minister Gohar Ayub to Central Asia to allay their fears of the Taliban will cause great embarrassment in Islamabad. It clearly overplayed its hand when it sent ambassador Aziz Khan to meet Abdul Malik. It ignored the lesson learnt by the British at great cost—that Afghans hate to accept rulers who come tiding piggyback on foreign powers. Besides, it would have domestic repercussions. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, never comfortable with the Taliban operations of the ISI can use this opportunity to rein in the intelligence agency.