Burhanuddin Rabbani, chairman of the High Peace Council and former President of Afghanistan who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over lunch in New Delhi on Thursday and later had delegation level talks, has expressed his desire to perform Friday prayers at the historic Jama Masjid.
Rabbani's two-day visit is considered important by the Indian establishment and accordingly, he got a warm reception in New Delhi. He had one public engagement on Thursday, and is likely to meet few Ulemas of the Deoband sect on Friday.
Rabbani is heading the council that is negotiating with the Taliban on behalf of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai-led government. Rabbani, who is a Tajik and leader of the Jamait-e-Islami, has lent his crucial support to Karzai in his peace efforts.
"Rabbani's visit is very important politically and also has a symbolic value. India was always known for its development work in Afghanistan. But beyond the presence in the development field, India lacked the political punch," said, an official from the ministry of external affairs.
While explaining the context of the visit he added, 'Now, India is, for the first time, becoming a part of the peace process with Rabbani's visit. India has serious security concerns and the Afghanistan government and Rabbani have been recognising for quite sometime," he said.
"Rabbani's visit justifies India's role in Afghanistan. It"s time India becomes a part of the peace and security process," he added.
The official said Rabbani's visit shows that India-Afghanistan's relations are developing and diversifying. An Indian diplomat, who has interacted with Rabbani, called him an "intelligent and astute" leader.
Kanwar Sibal, former foreign secretary, however, undermined such enthusiasm.
"I would say his visit is useful. But, when it comes to Afghanistan, one can't say who is in a position to deliver. Karzai, the United States, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces are struggling there with uncertainties," he said.
"Amid such a situation, Rababani is trying to get broad Pashtun backing for his negotiations with the Taliban," he added.
"He has come to India to hear our concerns of the Taliban, and we would like to know from him what's the level of the peace talks (with the Taliban), what's the timetable of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and how the talks would move ahead to match the US action. We will try to measure the seriousness of his reconciliation process."
Rabbani has come with delegation of 15 people. Rabbani is a major player in Kabul and has visited Turkey, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Iran to strengthen his reconciliation process.
"The important issue to note is that Rabbani's visit comes at an appropriate time, because India has begun to shed its 'cautious approach' when it comes to the Taliban. India is now more pragmatic and practical in accepting the ground reality in Afghanistan," said a diplomat who is part of the team that arranged Rabbani's visit.
When asked what made India change its policy on the Taliban, the diplomat added, "India has tremendous goodwill across Afghanistan. We saw that this very fact makes the difference."
"India was careful enough to not be seen as someone who is not with the Afghan people. Every country should strengthen efforts of peace and security in Afghanistan. India has just done what the Afghan people have always wanted."
In other words, India has accepted that there has to be 'a political solution' to the Afghan problem. Rabbani's approach is one such political action that India appreciates with certain conditions.
However, India is not missing out on rhetoric by saying, "Although, India supports the peace process, we are concerned at some aspects of the reconciliation with the Taliban. India will reiterate adherence to the 'red lines' while going ahead with the peace process as outlined in the London conference last year."
In fact, India has repeated many times that it wants 'a saner faction of Taliban' to adhere to the Afghan Constitution, shun violence and severe it's ties with Al Qaeda. The Indian side is insisting that let the new set up remain "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned."
Rabbani told his hosts, "Our aim is to promote a culture of peace to replace the culture of violence."
Rabbani has a masters in Islamic philosophy from the university of Al-Azhar in Cairo. During the Soviet occupation he fought the Russians in name of Islam from Pakistan.
In 1992, when Najibullah's left-leaning government, covertly and overtly supported by India, was thrown out, he became the President of Islamic state of Afghanistan.
Then, Rabbani was accused by the Western media of running the local government in and around the Panjshir valley from money earned from opium cultivation.
In those years, it would have been inconceivable to see that India would host such a warm reception for Rabbani one day. Ahmed Shah Masood, the legendary Mujahidin military commander and Rabbani were a force to reckon with in Tajik-dominated north-eastern Afghanistan.
But his visit to New Delhi is a sign of changing times in the region and changed policy of India.
Rabbani and India have travelled a long distance in these turbulent times indeed.