Taliban targets India once more

Posted in India | 01-May-06 | Author: Siddharth Srivastava

Officials lay wreaths on the casket carrying the body of Indian telecommunication engineer K. Suryanarayana, after it arrived from Afghanistan, in New Delhi, India, Monday, May 1, 2006.

NEW DELHI: India’s worst fears about jehadi terror, cost of engaging with USA and the complicity of Pakistan in promoting acts of violence against India, came true this weekend. The killing of 41-year old Indian telecom engineer K Suryanarayana, the father of three young children, by the Taliban in Afghanistan has shocked the country. Suryanarayana was working for a private company involved in the re-construction of Afghanistan. The Taliban that kidnapped the engineer from the Zabul Province on the Kabul-Kandahar road last Friday had linked his release to the withdrawal of Indian firms primarily working to develop infrastructure in Afghanistan.

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ``severely condemned the act of terrorism,’’ Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement: ``the enemies of the people of Afghanistan are behind the brutal murder of Indian engineer. By committing this heinous crime the enemies want to stop the reconstruction process of Afghanistan.’’ This is the second such killing by the Taliban in six months. In November last year, the Taliban killed Indian Ramankutty Maniyappan who worked as a driver for the Border Roads Organization (BRO).

As in the case of Kutty, there were no negotiations.

Indian officials have said that Suryanarayana was tortured and killed before the high-level Indian team reached and the statement by the Taliban that he was shot while trying to escape is false. This is a clear signal by the Taliban and New Delhi believes their benefactors in Islamabad to India to keep off Afghanistan.

By these killings, the immediate motive of the Taliban is to weaken the Karzai dispensation that New Delhi has been keen to promote. India also sees a devious role being played by Pakistan. India's foreign secretary, said New Delhi was ``appalled by this inhuman act of terror by the Taliban and its sponsors,’’ a clear reference to Pakistan.

Indeed, the interests of New Delhi and Islamabad are ranged against each other in Afghanistan. India, which considers itself a victim of terrorism, is pushing for a stable and prosperous Afghanistan as important to scuttle the supply of the cadres of Islamist terrorists who infiltrate India. India does not want Kabul to return to fundamentalist control. New Delhi has been working over time to ensure that the likes of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar never hold center stage again and democracy takes firm root.

India can never forget or forgive the dubious role played by the Taliban when an Indian Airlines plane IC 814 with more than 180 on board was hijacked from Kathmandu in Nepal and routed to Kandahar in Afghanistan.

In order to meet the demands of the hijackers, New Delhi had to release the incarcerated Masood Azar, the spiritual leader of the terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Omar Sheikh, who later killed Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl.

Last year in August Manmohan made a historic touch down at Kabul for a two-day official visit, the first by and an Indian head of government to Afghanistan, in 29 years. Last month, New Delhi hosted Karzai who strongly suggested trilateral cooperation among India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India has also been extending development assistance, humanitarian aid, training of Afghan officials in administration and local self-government. There are also reports that suggest that India is keen to provide training to military officers and supply military equipment to Afghanistan.

India also wants to make its inroads in Kabul as it provides an access to the oil and gas rich regions in Central Asia. India is particularly interested in the Central Asian republics as these countries, being former Soviet Republics, will tend to not closely align with Pakistan. With efforts to jointly bid for energy resources with China not yielding any substantial results New Delhi has been looking for other partners, including Russia and Central Asian countries, for sustainable supplies to meet the requirements of a booming economy.

According to reports that first appeared in Jane’s Defense Weekly, India is to open its first overseas military base this year in the impoverished central Asian country of Tajikistan. Recently, Manmohan visited Uzbekistan, which shares its border with Afghanistan, and met President Islam Karimov, in order to beef up India’s chances for future oil and gas deals. Karzai has also repeatedly referred to the economic opportunities that can open up for India in Central Asia with Afghanistan acting as the ``land bridge’’ to the region. He has promised to help India by turning Afghanistan as a transit point.

Islamabad, on the other hand, is keen to minimize the influence of New Delhi in Afghanistan. Despite Afghanistan being admitted as the eighth member of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), due to India’s prodding, Pakistan has refused India transit facilities to the country and by extension Central Asia. Even protein biscuits from India for Afghan children have been refused transit facilities through Pakistan.

In this context, India has been actively involved in the construction of the Dilaram-Zaranj road that will provide direct access to the Iranian port of Chabahar and a shorter route for Indian goods to reach Afghanistan. The road will connect the area to the Garland highway of Afghanistan when it is completed, will reduce Afghan dependence on Pakistan substantially, which explains the attacks on Indians working in infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.

Islamabad has a vested interest in keeping the Afghan cauldron simmering (read as a playground for terror and jehadi networks, with the Taliban as the prime mover). It provides Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf leverage vis-à-vis Washington to negotiate more military arsenal and other forms of aid in exchange of extending co-operation to US forces that continue their hunt for Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda in the region.

With Indo-US relations taking a new turn for the better and Washington no longer buying Islamabad’s argument of the need to conduct a proxy war in Indian Kashmir due to a supposed`` freedom struggle,’’ the western frontiers remain the Generals only key bargaining chip with USA. Thus, regional terrorism and narcotics trade have been identified as the principal threats being faced by Afghanistan. In the year 2005 the US forces have recorded the highest number of casualties since they first set foot in Afghanistan five years ago, following the attacks on the world trade towers. Karzai survives as American forces secure his personal security as well as capital Kabul.

Indeed, given the scenario New Delhi has its task cut out in Afghanistan and there is a long way to go. So far New Delhi has held firm and said that Indian companies will not be withdrawn from Afghanistan. The deaths of Suryanarayana and Kutty, both sole breadwinners to their young wives, children and aging parents, add to the rising list of victims who have been brutally killed by the biggest scourge of our times --- global terror. The damage can never be repaired.

(Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist. Website: siddharthsrivastava.com)