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Wednesday, 29 December, 1999, 14:11 GMT
Analysis: India warms to the Taleban

Taleban guards have been on hand to storm the plane if necessary Taleban guards have been on hand to storm the plane if necessary

By South Asia analyst Alastair Lawson

The hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane in Afghanistan has meant that India has to deal directly with the Taleban authorities as part of its efforts to secure the release of hostages

Relations between the two countries in recent years have not been warm, and Delhi has been consistently unwilling to recognise the Taleban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

But there are now signs that the hostage crisis has provided an opportunity for both countries to reconcile their differences.

Ever since Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989, India has supported individuals or factions in Afghanistan that ultimately lost out.

India supported Burhanuddin Rabbani India supported Burhanuddin Rabbani
India supported General Najibullah's regime after the Russians left, but switched its support to Burhanuddin Rabbani when he deposed the general.

However, Burhanuddin Rabbani was himself forced from power as the Taleban advanced towards Kabul in 1998.

Since then, Delhi has supported the anti-Taleban alliance in the north-east of Afghanistan, even though this grouping controls no more than 10% of the country.


The main reason for India's distrust of the Taleban was the links between the movement and the Pakistan Government.

Jaswant Singh has been appreciative of the Taleban's efforts Jaswant Singh has been appreciative of the Taleban's efforts
Even today a fear remains among some senior officials in India that Taleban members are being recruited by Pakistan to fight in the Kashmir insurgency.

There is also a fear in Delhi that Pakistan might use its strong links with the Taleban to ensure that Indian influence in the lucrative markets of Central Asia is reduced.

But ever since the hijacking crisis began, there have been hints of a rapprochement between Afghanistan and India.

Senior Indian officials - including Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh - have praised Kabul's role in helping India to negotiate with the hijackers by providing accommodation and communications links to the Indian negotiating team.

Praise for Taleban

India is particularly pleased that the Taleban has publicly stated that it will not condone any violence inflicted on the passengers, and that its forces will storm the plane if a passenger is hurt by the hijackers.

One unnamed Indian minister is quoted as saying that these developments, coupled with the Taleban's swift condemnation of the hijacking and its refusal to give asylum to the hostage takers, are far more co-operative responses than India expected.

Despite these encouraging signs, India's mistrust of the Taleban looks unlikely to disappear overnight.

Shortly after the hijacking, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said that India did not and would not recognise the Taleban.

That stance was reiterated by Jaswant Singh when asked whether India might give official recognition to Taleban if the hijack were brought to a successful conclusion.

He said that issue would be addressed at a different time.
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See also:
28 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hijackers demand ransom
28 Dec 99 |  South Asia
International concern over hijack
03 Aug 98 |  South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
27 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Relatives' fury over hijack 'fiasco'

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