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Indian plane carrying humanitarian aid for Afghanistan. (Facebook)

India has decided to open its wallet to the Taliban. In the first week of June, a high-level diplomatic delegation led by senior diplomat J.P. Singh held a meeting with the Taliban in Kabul. This was the first-ever official visit by Indian officials to Afghanistan since New Delhi closed its embassy in Kabul following the Taliban’s return to power. India was quick in providing humanitarian aid after the recent devastating earthquake.

India has operationalised its embassy in Kabul in a limited manner by deploying a technical team to monitor and coordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. India still has no formal diplomatic ties with the Taliban government, but its envoys have previously met with the group’s representatives in Doha.

India is stepping up its engagement with the Taliban, insisting that it has only humanitarian intentions. But the message is clear: New Delhi is ready to have limited engagement with the Taliban. When the new regime took power in Kabul, India took a wait-and-see approach, but this has apparently changed.

New Delhi was a direct beneficiary of two decades of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. But the American exit has been particularly difficult for India and has sharply curtailed its role and influence in the country. Indian officials realize that the Taliban are a reality, and engagement with them can ensure some form of regional security and stability. Given the huge investments India has made in Afghanistan, total disengagement with the Taliban wasn’t realistic considering Pakistan’s interests and China’s footprint in the country. Extending aid and developing trade and diplomatic ties with the Taliban is seen as a way to prevent it from acting against Indian interests.

Since the mid-1990s, India has carefully avoided any public engagement with the Taliban. India acknowledges the failure of its approach and of the changing dynamics in South Asia and beyond. This approach only allowed Pakistan to entrench itself in Afghanistan as a de-facto power behind the scenes.

But recent disputes between Pakistan and the Taliban suggest that the Taliban are in no mood in working merely as proxies of Pakistan. Under these circumstances, India sees an opening for itself.

On the other hand, the Taliban are also looking to engage with India. There are strong reasons driving their newfound openness to India. The regime is desperate for money and humanitarian aid which India has provided in the past. A stronger relationship with India will also provide the regime with greater leverage over Pakistan.

A lot of things have changed in the Afghan political landscape since 2001. When they first came to power in the 1990s, the Taliban was just a ragtag, brutal, and idealistic militia with no strategic thinking. But today’s Taliban are shrewd politicians. The Taliban is looking for sovereignty and economic independence from Pakistan. For them, India is a very viable option. India was never averse to any reconciliation process with the Taliban as far as New Delhi is concerned. The Taliban is not the central problem. Pakistan’s overwhelming influence on the Taliban and the latter’s inability to liberate itself from such influence is the main issue.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.