This article was written before the news of the gruesome and tragic cold-blooded murder of Shri K. Suryanarayan. Updates
Shri K. Suryanarayan, an Indian engineer working in Afghanistan for a Bahrain-based company, is reported to have been kidnapped by unidentified elements on April 28, 2006. An individual, claiming to be from the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping on behalf of the Taliban and has reportedly threatened to have him executed if the government of India does not withdraw all Indian personnel working in Afghanistan.
The government of India, while rightly refusing to consider the demand of the Taliban, is at the same time reported to have rushed a team of officers/experts headed by a senior officer of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to Kabul to use the good offices of the Afghan authorities for getting Mr. Suryanarayan released.
This is the second instance of kidnapping of an Indian national by elements claiming to belong to the Taliban in order to demand the withdrawal of the Indian nationals working in Afghanistan. A similar incident last year ended in a tragedy with the kidnapped individual being executed by his kidnappers following the government of India's refusal to concede their demand.
While no one can fault the decision of the government of India to stand firm and reject the demand of the Taliban, one has the impression that its efforts to persuade the kidnappers to release him are repeating the same mistake as was committed last year--namely, relying almost totally on the good offices of the Hamid Karzai government to get him released.
While Mr. Karzai is a good friend of India, his government has very little influence over the Taliban, which is its sworn adversary. Nor has the US-led international security assistance force deployed in Afghanistan the capability to get him released peacefully. They have the capability for commando action, which may not serve any useful purpose at present. Moreover, any Indian request for the assistance of the US-led force may provoke the Taliban into taking a rigid stand
Presuming that the Taliban is really responsible for the kidnapping, it is an almost exclusively Pashtun organisation and its leadership and command and control are based in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan. The government of Pakistan and the Pashtun leaders of Pakistan such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the Jamaat-ul-Ulema Islam have greater influence over the Taliban than the Karzai government.
If not already done, the government of India should immediately work through the Pakistan-Afghanistan Pashtun network by contacting officials of the government of Pakistan as well as individual leaders such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman. It should also request respected Deobandi leaders of India to contact the Deobandi leaders of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and seek their good offices. The US should also be requested to request Pakistan to use its good offices.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai