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India, Iran, Russia mull strategy to fight Taliban
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NEW DELHI: It's still part of bilateral conversations, but old partners, India, Iran and Russia, are dusting out an old mechanism to take on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

All three countries are still at an exploratory stage, but some articulated realities and possibilities are spurring on these discussions.

First, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is giving the Taliban and other Pakistan-sponsored jihadists a growing space.

Second, a fear that the US and Nato, in their eagerness to craft out an exit strategy in Afghanistan might fall for a Pakistan-assisted scheme to put some Taliban elements dressed up as "moderate" in charge of governing Afghanistan.

The first time this will be discussed more fully will be during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's ministerial meeting in Moscow on March 27. Both Iran and India will attend, though as a preparatory move, senior Iranian official Saeed Jalili will be in Delhi this week. Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki was in Mazar-e-Sharif last weekend to meet officials from Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

India has been much more quiet. But Russia, in its capacity as SCO chairman, is taking a more hands-on position, and recent reports say Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been asking for Russian assistance for a whole host of things. Afghan foreign minister Rangin Dagdar Spanta will be in Moscow as well.

Russia has indicated that Iran might be more comfortable working with it and India under the SCO rubric than the US-led effort. The US and Nato are organizing a "big tent" meeting in The Hague on March 31, also on Afghanistan.

Iran has a lot of clout inside Afghanistan due to its ethnic and religious connections with the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. India has also steadily built up a lot of equity with its relentless commitment in the developmental field.

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