The U.S. willingness to withdraw and the imperative for Afghan peace has created the conditions for the first time in 19 years for both America and the Taliban to reach a breakthrough. India’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan Gautam Mukhopadhaya acknowledges the achievement so far. In conversation with StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi he outlines the tricky negotiations ahead. On the February 29 (leap year) Doha deal signed by U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban’s Deputy Political Head Mullah Baradar in the presence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as the Kabul declaration, the ex-envoy feels more leaps of faith will be required. President-elect Ashraf Ghani has already indicated one sticking point in a press conference on March 1: that a prisoner swap deal is not a pre-condition for the expected intra-Afghan talks to begin on March 10.
Ambassador Mukhopadhaya also addresses the question of whether the softening of the Taliban’s language is only on the surface or runs deeper. He notes that the young generation and women’s voices on not relinquishing the gains since 2001 have a resonance the Taliban can’t ignore. The ex-envoy is confident a lot of the Taliban will welcome coming back to Afghanistan and reduce their dependence on Pakistani sponsors. But, he adds, others will hedge against the possibility of a return to conflict. He also feels India now has the opportunity to get more skin in the game.
Gautam Mukhopadhaya served as India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013.