Take a close look at the man with the beard. He’s the founding member of the Taliban and the former Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, not exactly the kind of man you’d expect India’s Union finance minister to be lounging around with. This picture of P Chidambaram with Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef is threatening to go viral and understandably there’s much indignation about, to put it mildly, the ‘impropriety’ of this hobnobbing.
One man who seems to be particularly enjoying the Union home minister’s discomfiture is Lalit Modi -- ever since he imperiously exported IPL to South Africa in 2009 to snub him, their internecine feud has only grown progressively bitter. During a visit to London a few months ago, an upset Chidambaram had demanded to know from the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer why no action was being taken against Modi despite the fact that his passport had been impounded and his UK visa had run out. Now it’s the turn of Modi’s supporters to question why PC is “partying with Taliban co-founder” even as they snigger about the “lofty issues” he’s been raising about the exiled IPL founder.
We can tell you that the picture, which Modi lost no time in re-tweeting, is unlikely to be a morphed one. It was probably taken during the recent THiNK conference in Goa, where Mullah Zaeef was invited for a panel discussion with Robert Grenier, former director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism unit. Apparently Zaeef, as the then ambassador to Pakistan, was a key player in efforts to avert the Afghan-US war which began in 2001. The debate itself ended on a stalemate with Zaeef defending the Taliban’s refusal to hand over their “guest” Osama bin Laden and Grenier pointing out that “for obvious reasons” the US was left with little choice after 9/11. Clearly, no lessons there for the warring Modi and PC.