India for the first time opened channels of communication with Afghan Taliban leaders, including the group's deputy leader Mullah Ghani Baradar, the Hindustan Times reported on Wednesday.
The report said the move marks “a significant shift” from New Delhi’s position of not engaging with the Taliban in any way.
The outreach is largely being led by Indian security officials and has been limited to Taliban factions and leaders that are perceived as being “nationalist” or outside the sphere of influence of Pakistan and Iran, one of the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.
The communication has been underway for some months, though it continues to be exploratory in nature, sources told the Hindustan Times.
In the case of Mullah Baradar, the first person cited above said messages were exchanged by the two sides though there was no confirmation of a meeting, the report said.
There have also been conversations with other Taliban factions despite a lack of trust on both sides, the sources told the Hindustan Times.
India is the largest regional contributor to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development efforts with pledges of $3 billion but has lagged behind other regional players such as Russia, China and Iran in establishing contacts with the Taliban, largely because of the group’s long-standing links with the Pakistani military establishment, according to the report.
“But there has been a huge shift since then and there are some who think it might be better to have a line of communication with some Taliban leaders,” another source told the Hindustan Times.
The people who spoke to the Hindustan Times "made it very clear that India’s outreach didn’t include the Haqqani Network or members of the Quetta Shura, who are seen as proxies of the Pakistani military."
There was no formal response from the Indian government to this report
A visit to Kabul last month by joint secretary JP Singh, the external affairs ministry’s point person for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, was part of the continuing engagement with Afghan leaders. “Singh engaged with various groups and made an assessment of the situation on the ground and got a first-hand sense of things," a source told the Hindustan Times.