The brutal slaughter of M.R.Kutty, a poor Keralite driver working with the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), by the Taliban, which had kidnapped him four days ago and demanded the exit of the BRO from Afghanistan, has been interpreted by some analysts as a message from the Taliban to India to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Their advice to the government, rightly, is not to let itself be intimidated by this blackmail, but to continue helping the Hamid Karzai
government of Afghanistan in its reconstruction programme, while, at the same time, strengthening physical security for the Indian personnel deployed in Afghan territory.
Where I disagree with them is with regard to the origin of this intimidatory message. It is not a message from the Taliban as they have contended, but it is a message from Pakistan through the Taliban not to get unduly involved in Afghanistan -- particularly in the southern parts of the country bordering the Pakistani province of Balochistan, where the independence movement shows no signs of petering out despite the brutal measures of suppression taken by the government of Gen.Pervez Musharraf.
Ever since the government of India started sending its reconstruction personnel to the interior areas of Afghanistan, particularly in southern Afghanistan and in the Herat area bordering Iran, the Musharraf government, including Musharraf himself, and the jihadi terrorist organisations, have repeatedly criticised the presence of Indian personnel in this area. It has been insinuated repeatedly that many of these personnel are actually officers of the Indian intelligence and security agencies sent to these areas to train alleged Baloch terrorists.
Our minister of state for external affairs has unfortunately, in an interview to Nidhi Razdan of NDTV
on November 23, has provided added ammunition to these anti-Indian elements by saying that the BRO's personnel sent to this area are being protected by personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border
The Pakistani Army, like its Chinese counterpart, hates the ITBP because of the valour of its jawans who, in the past, had proved themselves to be more than a match for the Pakistani and Chinese security forces. The minister's statement that some ITBP personnel have been deployed in southern Afghanistan to protect the BRO personnel is likely to act as a red rag to the bull, increasing the chances of more attacks on Indian personnel.
According to the minister, the government of India, on coming to know of the kidnapping of Kutty, had immediately sought the intervention of the Hamid Karzai government, the foreign embassies in Kabul and Afghan tribal leaders (based in Kabul?). The action taken by the government, as explained by the minister, gives a disturbing indication of the extent to which the government is out of touch with the ground realities relating to terrorism in general and Afghanistan in particular.
Let's take a look at the ground realities.
- The Hamid Karzai government has very little control over southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Hizbe Islami remnants operating from sanctuaries in and around Quetta have stepped up their activities since March, 2005, killing a large number of Afghan
government troops, policemen and an increasing number of American soldiers.
The Taliban remnants operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan had also shot down a US army helicopter in the area bordering Pakistan earlier this year.
- I had written as follows on
of 911: "Since March, 2005 Afghanistan has been slowly sliding back into a state of anarchy and lawlessness due to the re-infiltration of terrorists belonging to the Al Qaeda and the Taliban from sanctuaries in Pakistan."
Even if the Karzai government had anted to, it would not have been able to be of any effective assistance in this area.
- It is very well known that all the surviving members of the Taliban leadership including Mulla Mohammad Omer, its Amir, and its spokesman operate from sanctuaries provided by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Quetta area and not from Afghan territory. Since the Taliban leadership looks upon Karzai as an American quisling who has to be eliminated, it was futile to have expected him to intervene. Karzai himself has been repeatedly saying in public about the activities of these elements from Pakistani sanctuaries and it is, therefore, surprising that he did not advise the
government of India to take up the matter with Islamabad, which only has control over them.
- Since our Prime Minister's visit to the US in July, the Taliban and the Al Qaeda have stepped up their propaganda against India. I had written as follows on August 13, 2005:
Reports from well-informed sources in Balochistan say that Musharraf has made a deal with the Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the HEI, under which he has promised not to interfere with their activities from their sanctuaries in Pakistani territory in return for their refraining from any terrorist attacks against him or in Pakistani territory. For the last about 10 months, there has been no major terrorist attack, barring the periodic anti-Shia strikes, in Pakistani territory attributable to these organisations.
The first references to India in the messages of the Al Qaeda and its leaders started appearing after the visit of Prime Minister Aeriel Sharon of Israel to India in 2003, but these messages did not refer to the so-called Kashmir issue. Against this background, it is significant that a recent message attributed to the Al Qaeda and its associates in Afghanistan refers to Kashmir.
On August 9, 2005, the Al Arabiya TV channel showed a video recording of what was described as the recent successful operations of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban against the US troops in Afghanistan. A report on the video circulated by the Associated Press says as follows:
"A purported al-Qaida-made video shows militants in Afghanistan--including Europeans, Arabs and others--preparing to attack U.S. troops and showing off what they said was a U.S. military laptop. The video features interviews with a masked man yelling "As you bomb us, you will be bombed!" and shows a group of men packing explosives into bombs. The program includes interviews with bearded fighters claiming they are avenging the killing of Muslims by the U.S., Britain, Israel and India. "If this is terrorism and fundamentalism, then OK, we are terrorists and fundamentalists," a Pakistani man who identifies himself as Bilal says in Urdu. The tapes feature a diatribe by a British or Australian-accented man wearing a black robe, AK-47 and military-style vest, who warns Westerners of "the lies of Blair and Bush." Yet another scene pans across a cache of captured U.S. gear, including a laptop, an M-16, military radios, a global positioning satellite display and the Department of Defense ID card of slain Navy SEAL Danny Phillip Dietz Jr Dietz, 25, of Littleton, Colo., was killed June 28 after his four-man reconnaissance team came under attack in Kunar province.
The Chinook helicopter was downed and the 16 troops killed as the craft was on its way to aid Dietz, killing all aboard. An insurgent is shown going through the laptop's hard drive, zooming in on a U.S. military document marked "For Official Use Only" and a map of Kabul marked with the locations of the U.S. and British embassies. The film is subtitled in Arabic, but carries interviews in English, French, Pashto and Urdu, as well as Arabic spoken with Yemeni, Saudi and Iraqi accents."
Other news agencies have quoted the British or Australian accented man appearing in the video as saying: "We will not let you kill our families in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the Balkans, Indonesia , the Caucusus and elsewhere."
While the authenticity of this video has not yet been established by the Western and Australian intelligence agencies, it does not appear to be a doctored one.It is not clear whether this video was recorded before the recent visit of our Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh to the US or after the visit. The two countries' determination to co-operate against terrorism was highlighted during the visit.
- Commenting on the Delhi blasts of October 29, 2005, I had stated: "The blasts of October 29 have come in the wake of the propaganda against India stepped up by the Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the IIF (the International Islamic Front) following the recent visit to the US in July,2005, by Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh. One has to seriously take into account the possibility that the Al Qaeda and/or the IIF might have now targeted India because of its open alignment, as seen by them, with the US on matters affecting the vital intetests of the Islamic Ummah."
In my view, only two persons could have effectively intervened with the Taliban and saved the life of Kutty--Musharraf and Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the Amir of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI) Pakistan, who is very close to the Taliban Amir. Some of the Indian Deobandi leaders might have been able to seek the intervention of the Maulana, who would have been only too glad to try to be of assistance. If it had not occurred to the government of India to try these approaches, it shows how out of touch with the ground realities our policy makers have been.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.